Trudeau’s in trouble in battle over pipeline
“The Trans Mountain expansion will be built.”
With the nation mourning Humboldt’s loss, pecking out an obstinate tweet about an oil pipeline wasn’t at the top of Justin Trudeau’s to-do list, yet out came the above tweet ahead of the prime minister joining members of the shattered community for last Sunday’s vigil.
Welcome to government, where events never pause and most days are an endless series of bad and worse choices. Trudeau is certainly down to bad and worse on Kinder Morgan.
Trudeau might want this pipeline built, but if the company is wavering and the Green party-dependent NDP premier of the province through which it must pass hasn’t yet found a body he won’t chuck in front of it, at what point do you concede the Earth will not be moving?
The answer from Team Trudeau is a ringing “not now, not ever.”
“We are determined to see (Trans Mountain) built,” Trudeau has told reporters. “It is in the national interest. It doesn’t make any sense for us to continue to have a $15-billion discount on our oil resources because we are trapped with an American market. We need to get our resources to new markets.”
The same words could have and did come out of Stephen Harper’s mouth. Trudeau now has to bell the cat.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Harper’s confrontational “cram-them-down-your-throats” pipeline policy was to be replaced with Trudeau’s more charismatic approach that would accrue the “social licence” needed to grease construction.
What Trans Mountain ultimately proves is 20 years of debate in Canada has split people into two irreconcilable camps: pro-oil and anti-oil. Preening at climate summits and taxing carbon won’t make exporting oil kosher to those who are resolutely opposed.
Giddy though the opposition parties might be, now is not the time for them to revel in Trudeau’s mire. Seeing your opponent hoisted with his own petard is satisfying, but if the pipeline really is in Canada’s national interest, the opposition should offer some constructive suggestions.
But the partisan urge is too strong. Further disincentivizing bipartisan efforts is the Trudeau carbon tax that is not particularly well-read by any capital-C Conservative.
Trudeau shoulders a good chunk of the blame. His Pan Canadian Framework for Clean Energy and Climate Change with its plan for carbon “pricing” was effectively crammed down provincial throats.
And with Rachel Notley and Kathleen Wynne’s governments now in severe financial distress, voters there and across Canada will begin to wonder why they’re on the road to higher taxes if those uppity British Columbians aren’t holding up their end of the social-licence bargain.
This is where federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh should have a useful intervention to make, given it’s his provincial family on opposite sides of the Kinder Morgan dispute. But
Singh has sided with B.C. and its brighter federal electoral prospects.
The federal government can, and should, re-assert its constitutional right to build the pipeline. And yes, the feds can join Alberta in slapping down money and insurance guarantees. But that’s only half the battle.
If the communities along the pipeline route remain ready to obstruct its construction, it’s going to take a lot more than bucks and words to clear the way. Even the stern words of a judge urging protesters out of the way might not do the trick. What then?
Do the sunny ways of Trudeau allow for a hint of the army steel flashed by his father? Do we just watch him?
Andrew MacDougall is a Londonbased communications consultant and ex-director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper.