Facing charges that B.C.’s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is killing the project and signalling the province is closed to investment, Premier John Horgan said the government is just following through on its election promises.
"We had an election campaign about 12 months ago, and during that time we on this side of the house ... campaigned in the best interest of protecting our air, water and land and ensuring that we could protect our coast," Horgan said.
"We were abundantly clear about our view on a particular project," he said without naming Trans Mountain. "We were abundantly clear about our concerns about a lack of federal action to protect our marine environment, and we put that question before the public and they spoke."
Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. announced Sunday that it is suspending all non-essential activity and spending on the pipeline project in part due to "the continued actions in opposition to the project by the Province of British Columbia."
The NDP promised during the election campaign last year that it would use "every tool in the toolbox" to stop the pipeline, which the previous B.C. Liberal government had approved. Challenges to the project include a planned reference case where B.C. will seek a court ruling on whether it has jurisdiction over oil shipments through the province.
Some 200 people have been arrested while protesting the project, including federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Burnaby South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart. Opponents of the project include several environmental groups and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Kinder Morgan said it would consult with stakeholders before May 31 in hopes of protecting its shareholders and gaining clarity on its ability to construct the pipeline through B.C.
Noting that the federal government, Alberta and Saskatchewan support the project, the company's announcement quoted chair and CEO Steve Kean on B.C.'s opposition. "A company cannot resolve differences between governments," he said. "While we have succeeded in all legal challenges to date, a company cannot litigate its way to an in-service pipeline amidst jurisdictional differences between governments."
The topic took up nearly all of question period in the B.C. legislature Monday.
"It's time for this government to wake up, realize the fiasco it's created, that we have a trade war about to emerge with Alberta, we have a prime minister who's furious with this province and talking about the possibility of changing transfer payments to this province," said Andrew Wilkinson, the leader of the BC Liberal opposition.
"This premier has singlehandedly created a complete mess," he said. "It's time for him to accept his accountability, get on the plane to Ottawa and solve this little mess that he's created for all British Columbians."
Horgan said 60 per cent of voters chose representatives from parties that pledged to stop the pipeline. "We have to be committed to the campaign statements we made, and we said a year ago, we said two years ago, that we would stand up and defend our coast. I don't know what the problem is with members understanding that."
Noting that he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on Sunday, Horgan said B.C. isn't making threats, but is going to court to argue that the provincial government should have jurisdiction over its land, air and water.
He responded to criticisms that B.C. was harming the fabric of Canada and sending a negative message to investors by saying, "This is one project of many in Canada. This was not a crisis when Energy East did not proceed. It was not a crisis when Keystone XL did not proceed. This is one project in a sea of investment."
Speaking to reporters, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James said the government's job is to stand up for the province. Asked about the possibility of the federal government penalizing B.C. by withholding transfer payments, she said, "I am confident that standing up for British Columbians' rights is our right as a province and Ottawa will see that."
Environment Minister George Heyman said tens of thousands of jobs in B.C. depend on protecting the province's coast. The federal government is spending $45 million to fill the gaps in knowledge about how diluted bitumen behaves in water and that work should be completed before the coast is put at risk, he said.
The $7.4 billion Trans Mountain project would expand the existing pipeline's capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000, according to Kinder Morgan. The pipeline carries oil and petroleum products from Alberta to the coast, and supporters argue expanding it is necessary to get Canadian oil to international markets.
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association said B.C. government interference had led Kinder Morgan to consider stopping the project. President Chris Gardner said in a statement, "This decision will send a simple chilling message to businesses looking to start or expand major projects here - stay away from B.C. because you cannot rely on the government to honour its commitments or follow the law."
But news of Kinder Morgan's decision was welcomed by opponents of the project, including activist David Mivasair. "As the first named defendant in Kinder Morgan's lawsuit in BC Supreme Court, I am proud of the role my colleagues and I served in directly, physically intervening at KM's construction site at Westridge Marine Terminal and enabling KM to recognize the financial risk to its investors and suspending operations before proceeding further," he said in a statement emailed Sunday.
"We expect that KM will respond in a fiscally responsible manner and curtail its investors' losses by ceasing operations rather than continuing to pursue a failing project," he said.
Read more: BC Politics