National Column: Pipeline impasse as big as ever

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by Chantal Hebert

A month after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stepped in to resolve the impasse between British
Columbia and Alberta over the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, his government has little to show for its efforts.

Trudeauís offer to compensate Kinder Morgan – the parent company of the pipeline – for any financial losses resulting from the opposition of the B.C. government to the project has yet to be taken.

With less than two weeks to go to a company-set deadline of May 31 to decide whether to fish or cut bait on the expansion, Kinder Morgan remains coy as to its intentions.

On Wednesday, a meeting of its shareholders lasted little more than 15 minutes and featured no public discussion of the issue. In a statement, the company indicated that negotiations were ongoing.

At a Parliament Hill press conference held mere hours before the shareholdersí Calgary meeting and presumably designed to put pressure on Kinder Morganís board, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said if it decided to take a pass on the federal offer and walk away from the pipeline expansion he would look for another taker.

The minister seemed convinced one of Kinder Morganís competitors would be willing to overlook the deteriorating political environment that caused the company to suspend all non-essential work on the expansion earlier this year, and pick up where its original architects left off.

For notwithstanding Ottawaís willingness to backstop whatever extra costs (to a yet unspecified level) could be incurred as a result of “politically motivated” delays, the clouds hovering over the project remain intact.

Federal pressure on B.C.ís government to drop its opposition to the pipeline has yielded no positive results for the pipeline proponents. NDP Premier John Horganís government has now referred the issue of whether the province has the power to regulate the amount of diluted bitumen oil that transits through its territory to B.C.ís top court. It will take months before an answer is forthcoming.

In separate litigation launched by seven Indigenous groups the Federal Court of Appeal has yet to pronounce on whether Ottawa lived up to its duty to consult the First Nations prior to giving the project the green light.

The demonstrations that have attended some of the pipeline work sites show no sign of abating. If anything, over the past month the anti-Trans Mountain movement has been picking up steam at home and abroad.

In a tweet published last week former U.S. vice-president and climate change champion Al Gore called the pipeline expansion destructive and wrote it should be stopped. Meanwhile in Quebec a large coalition of environmental and Indigenous groups have joined the fray.

Closer to the Trans Mountain battleground, Burnaby South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart – a vocal critic of the project – is launching a Vancouver mayoral run. Earlier this week he pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal contempt for having violated a court order to stay away from Kinder Morganís Burnaby facility. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May who was also arrested at the same demonstration faces a similar charge.

With only a few weeks to go before the summer adjournment of Parliament, promised federal legislation to affirm Ottawaís constitutional authority to see the project through has yet to materialize.

Given their majority in the House of Commons and the support of the Conservative opposition for the pipeline project, the Liberals would have no problem rushing a bill through the House. But the same may not be true of the Senate, where Indigenous advocates such as former Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Murray Sinclair vehemently oppose the expansion.

In any event, such legislation would hardly prevent the ongoing court challenges from running their course. If anything, it could open the federal government to more provincial litigation. The Quebec government, for one, has signalled its support for B.C. in its bid to have the courts affirm that the constitutional authority of the federal government to pursue infrastructure projects that it deems in the national interest does not nullify the provincial right to legislate to protect the environment.

For Trudeau the most positive news on the pipeline front this past month has come in the shape of polls that found public support for the Trans Mountain expansion to be growing. But those same polls suggest that does not automatically translate into support for spending taxpayersí money on keeping the pipeline project alive.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist based in Ottawa covering politics.
Follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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