Since we wrote about the BC-Alberta trade feud over the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline in February (see In The News This Week: Its the environment, stupid), conflict over the pipeline has grown and the stakes have been raised. On Thursday, the BC provincial government filed a case in the B.C. Court of Appeal on whether the province can control the shipment of bitumen oils, and whether such decisions could be overridden by the Federal government (Toronto Star). At the same time, the pipeline faces multiple court challenges by First Nation groups and local municipalities.
Because the BC provincial government case stalls and may entirely prevent the pipelines building, it has caused Kinder Morgan, the Texas company behind the pipeline, to suspend all “non-essential activities and related spending” on the expansion of the pipeline as of April 8th. In addition, the company put forth a May 31st deadline to resolve the issues or it would cancel the project entirely. (Reuters, Global News)
A week after Kinder Morgan’s announcement, the three main political players, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, BC Premier John Horgan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, met in an attempt to resolve the issue. There was reportedly no consensus among the three, which resulted in the Prime Minister stating that the approval of the pipeline was within federal jurisdiction and that the ruling Liberals would take legislative and financial measures to ensure the project goes forward. Trudeau justified his governments impending action stating that the project is in the “national interest.” (National Post, CBC)
Trudeau’s desperate actions to appease Kinder Morgan and overpower the provincial government can be seen as attempts to apply pressure to Premiers Horgan and Notley to come to an agreement. However, both governments are digging in their heels, with Alberta reviewing how it can restrict oil supplies to BC, and Horgan’s government taking their legal case to the next level.
It remains unclear how Trudeau can force the project forward, but certainly he is putting his government in an awkward position. Trudeau wants the project to move forward for political and economic reasons. He recognizes the value of oil export to the Canadian economy, and also recognizes the need to maintain popularity in oil-rich provinces in the upcoming election. Yet, the political and legal capital his government will have to use to bulldoze through provincial opposition of the project will be very great, and reflect poorly on his government’s environmental commitments. (Huffington Post)
For many Canadians, including ourselves, another question remains. We recognize the need to protect the environment and sacred land from oil spills and other pipeline related disasters, but cannot wean the Canadian economy off of oil overnight. Tripling the capacity of an existing pipeline does seem to be a step in the wrong direction to achieve our climate goals, but maybe the parties can find a middle ground that is still an economic win, but that also shows a commitment to transitioning to greener energy.