Pipe­line im­passe as big as ever

Polls find pub­lic sup­port for the Trans Mountain ex­pan­sion to be grow­ing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Chan­tal Hébert Na­tional Af­fairs Chan­tal Hébert is a Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices colum­nist based in Ottawa cov­er­ing pol­i­tics. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @Chan­talHbert

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 tax­pay­ers’ money on keep­ing the pipe­line project alive.

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.

Trudeau’s 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 share­hold­ers’ Cal­gary meet­ing and pre­sum­ably de­signed to put pres­sure on Kinder Mor­gan’s 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 Mor­gan’s 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.

Fed­eral pres­sure on B.C.’s gov­ern­ment to drop its op­po­si­tion to the pipe­line has yielded no pos­i­tive re­sults for the pipe­line pro­po­nents. NDP Premier John Horgan’s 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.’s 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 has 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 Mor­gan’s 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 Ottawa’s 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 tax­pay­ers’ money on keep­ing the pipe­line project alive.

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