Trudeau’s tightrope

The Daily Courier - - OPINION -

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.

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