The emergency summit between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Columbia and Alberta premiers John Horgan and Rachel Notley Sunday failed to end the standoff over Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Horgan emerged from the Ottawa meeting citing continued concerns over environmental risks in transporting diluted bitumen from Alberta through B.C. to Asian markets.
His government still plans to pursue a reference case to the Supreme Court of Canada on whether B.C. has the right to establish regulations that could delay or block the pipeline expansion.
Notley and Trudeau, meanwhile, announced that their governments have begun discussions with Kinder Morgan on financing the pipeline.
Notley said the aim was to “establish a financial relationship that will eliminate investor risk.” Trudeau said the governments wanted to “remove the uncertainty overhanging” the project.
“We are going to get the pipeline built. It is a project in the national interest,” Trudeau told reporters at the National Press Theatre. He said the government would “pursue legislative options” to “assert and reinforce jurisdiction in this matter.”
No details were revealed as to whether Ottawa and Alberta would take a financial stake in the $7.4-billion project — which Notley floated as a possibility last week — or what “legislative options” the federal government would present to Parliament.
The head of Canada’s largest business association hopes the Trudeau government won’t invest in the pipeline and will use its legislative power.
“In principle, I don’t believe it’s the role of government to run a pipeline,” said Perrin Beatty, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It’s the role of government to ensure that all regulatory requirements are met, that the public interest is respected, and that it’s possible for the private sector to run its business.”
However Beatty, a former Conservative federal cabinet minister, added that if the government “has no choice” but to take a stake in the project, it should “make it clear that the investment is short term and that it will divest its share once the project proceeds.”
“The fundamental issue concerns the process for approving projects like this,” he said. “If it were working properly, it wouldn’t be necessary to write a cheque with tax dollars.”
Beatty said the Trudeau government should introduce a motion in the House of Commons that would seek “an affirmation by all members of Parliament that this project is in the national interest, and that the federal government is instructed to take any appropriate measures to ensure that the project moves ahead without further delay.”
Parliament has that authority under Section 92 of the Constitution Act, which allows it to declare “works,” such as a pipeline that crosses provincial borders, “to be for the general advantage of Canada,” he said.
A government motion would “add the moral authority of Parliament, and force members of Parliament from all parties to take a position and make it clear whether Canada is one country or 13,” said Beatty.
He said the federal government should not accept Horgan’s proposal that it join the reference to the Supreme Court.
“That could go on for well over a year, and we effectively have until the end of May when the board of Kinder Morgan will make a decision as to whether to go ahead, and the strategy of the B.C. government has been to kill the project by delay,” Beatty said. “It would not necessarily just be the federal government, Alberta and British Columbia that are parties to it. Other provinces and interested groups could also decide to join and make the process even lengthier.”
Quebec has already signalled its concerns with a federally imposed solution to the pipeline political logjam.
In an open letter on Saturday, Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec’s minister responsible for Canadian relations, wrote that “the recent assertions of federal representatives regarding the Trans Mountain pipeline, which refer to an exclusive application of federal rules, are detrimental to a proper resolution of this issue and raise concerns for the future.”
Marc Lee, a senior economist with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the Supreme Court could provide clarity on federal authority to have the pipeline built and provincial authority to protect the environment.
“What is amazing to me is that there’s so much mythology that’s part of the discourse — a lot of it coming from Rachel Notley, but some things are being parroted in the mainstream media analysis about what the various governments can or cannot do,” said Lee, who is also co-director of the Climate Justice Project, a research partnership with the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.
“This stuff about Alberta blocking oil shipments going to British Columbia is just utter garbage. The province of Alberta is not a shipper on that pipeline, so there’s no oil it can hold back. To do so would require all the companies to collude together, which seems completely contrary to the political culture there, much less the business interests at stake.”
Lee said if the Alberta government believes the only way to create jobs is by increasing the production and export of fossil fuels, it should be investing in better refining capacity to avoid shipping diluted bitumen, which poses greater risks in ocean spills and has limited markets.
Greenpeace Canada warned in a statement that “if Trudeau believed he can ram his pipeline through, he is misreading both the Constitution and the electorate, while underestimating the opposition on the ground.”
However, Stockwell Day, former Canadian Alliance leader and a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, said groups opposing the pipeline “are inviting chaos.”
Day was particularly alarmed by a recent Globe and Mail oped column written by Okanagan Nation Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon. They wrote that “if the federal government tries to ram through this pipeline, it could mean going back to one of the darkest times in modern Canadian history: the Oka standoff with the Mohawk Nation.”
Day said taking a position “that threatens Oka 2.0 is completely irresponsible.” He noted that 51 First Nations communities (41 in B.C. and 10 in Alberta) have signed mutual benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan regarding the project.
“In a democratic society, if you don’t like the laws that are in place, you work to change them. That’s the essence of stability and peace. Anything else leads to anarchy,” said Day, an Alberta cabinet minister before entering federal politics. “This project has passed all of the environmental, legal and constitutional requirements.”
Day said the global view of Canada is that “we don’t have the ability to get our own refined products exported to countries like China and India, which would benefit from our natural gas or refined oil by getting off their coal dependency.”
Beatty had harsh words for the B.C. government’s opposition to the pipeline project.
“What the government of British Columbia is doing undermines the national interest, divides the country, thwarts the rule of law and severely undercuts our ability to attract sorely needed investment to Canada,” he said. “The prime minister needs to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that the pipeline goes ahead.”
As defence minister in Brian Mulroney’s government in 1988, Beatty was tasked with replacing the War Measures Act with the Emergencies Act. Some pipeline supporters have suggested the government invoke the Emergencies Act to deal with pipeline protests.
“I believe that would be overkill in this instance,” said Beatty. “The law is designed to deal with something more extreme, such as an invasion, an insurrection or an earthquake in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.”
This article was supported by those who generously contributed to the Rafe Mair Memorial Fund for Environmental Reporting on The Tyee. To find out more or contribute, click here.