The Trudeau government has positioned itself as taking the “middle way” in the increasingly bitter fight over whether to build a pipeline that would give Alberta oil an outlet to the sea.
The problem with being in the middle, of course, is that you risk getting crunched between those who’ve staked out extreme positions on both sides. And as the fight over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline heats up, the Liberals are indeed being targeted by both those who would give the energy companies a free pass and those who will never approve any pipeline under any circumstances.
It’s a dangerous, uncomfortable spot to be in. But the fact remains that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken essentially the right approach to this thorny problem.
He’s right that a project already approved by both the federal and British Columbia governments should be allowed to proceed. The B.C. government of NDP Premier John Horgan should not be allowed to essentially negate the decision of its Liberal predecessor by throwing up new obstacles at every turn. Nor can it be allowed to defy the federal government in an area where Ottawa clearly has jurisdiction.
Trudeau is also right that green-lighting Trans Mountain must be part of a meaningful national approach to the pressing issue of climate change. That involves, among other things, putting a price on carbon and making sure Alberta is part of the solution. Attempting to simply shut down the biggest energy-producing province won’t work and would hurt national unity.
In the short run, the Trudeau government needs to lower the temperature on the issue. It needs to find a way to give Kinder Morgan assurances that the law will be followed and it has a reasonable prospect that its multi-billion-dollar investment in Trans Mountain isn’t a waste.
In that regard, inviting Horgan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to meet with the prime minister in Ottawa on Sunday was a smart move. Both premiers need to cool their rhetoric. Notley, for one, should hold off on any retaliatory measures against B.C., such as shutting off oil flows that would raise prices at the pump in Vancouver.
The simple fact is that fighting climate change is a political issue, not just a technical one. Hectoring people or destroying the industries they rely on for their livelihoods isn’t going to work. In a democracy broad public buy-in is needed, and the Trudeau government has been trying valiantly to bring people along with a carbon pricing plan that can be ramped up over time.
It isn’t enough, for sure, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Driving a stake through its heart by turning Alberta from an ally into an enemy of effective climate action would be foolish in the extreme.