Pipeline may be Trudeau’s kryp­tonite

Toronto Star - - CANADA - Chan­tal Hébert

MON­TREAL— Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was in Van­cou­ver on Mon­day adding what is pre­sum­ably the next-to-last piece to the puz­zle of the ap­proval by the fed­eral cabinet next month of an ex­panded Trans Moun­tain pipeline.

Trudeau an­nounced a more strin­gent en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion regime for Bri­tish Columbia’s coast.

With Par­lia­ment ad­journed for Re­mem­brance week, this is the kind of an­nounce­ment that could have been dealt with at the min­is­te­rial level. Trudeau’s cabinet is fan­ning out across the coun­try this week to pre­side over dozens of good-news events.

Hav­ing the prime min­is­ter front the roll­out was meant to draw at­ten­tion to the fact that his govern­ment is meet­ing one of the B.C. govern­ment’s key con­di­tions to sup­port Kin­der Mor­gan’s project. B.C. Pre­mier Christy Clark has made her ap­proval of the pipeline ex­pan­sion con­tin­gent on a “world-lead­ing ma­rine spill re­sponse” plan.

The hope is that Clark will find Trudeau has pro­vided her with enough po­lit­i­cal cover to come on­side with the bid to bring more Al­berta bi­tu­men to tide­wa­ter off the greater Van­cou­ver area.

In B.C., as in other re­gions of the coun­try, Trudeau has po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to spare. The re­silience of his pop­u­lar­ity places him in the su­per­hero cat­e­gory.

But even the pow­ers of Su­per­man are not lim­it­less.

In prac­tice, Trudeau may well be about to reach for a piece of po­lit­i­cal kryp­tonite.

That, at least, is the con­clu­sion any­one would come to af­ter read­ing the just-re­leased 60-page re­port of the min­is­te­rial panel tasked by the fed­eral govern­ment to com­ple­ment the reg­u­la­tory ap­proval process of the Trans Moun­tain pipeline.

The three-mem­ber panel was not asked to make a rec­om­men­da­tion on the way for­ward. In­stead, it de­liv- ered a clin­i­cal sum­mary of the pub­lic opin­ion land­scape in the two prov­inces di­rectly af­fected by Kin­der Mor­gan’s pipeline plans. Its find­ings make for sober­ing read­ing.

The re­port es­sen­tially sug­gests that Trudeau and Clark — if the pre­mier is will­ing to link arms with the prime min­is­ter on this is­sue lead­ing up to a spring pro­vin­cial elec­tion — are about to walk onto a pipeline mine­field.

There is lit­tle trace in the panel’s re­port of the kind of pub­lic am­biva­lence about the Trans Moun­tain pipeline that is li­able to be swayed by a per­sua­sive pop­u­lar prime min­is­ter will­ing to walk the ex­tra mile on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

What the group pre­dictably did find was an Al­berta pro-pipeline con­sen­sus that spans that prov­ince’s po­lit­i­cal spec­trum matched by a no less sig­nif­i­cant anti-pipeline con­sen­sus in B.C.

There was a time, un­der Stephen Harper, when the Cana­dian govern­ment of the day could look to the United States for some re­lief from this di­vi­sive do­mes­tic co­nun­drum. Those days are gone.

This is yet an­other file that Tues­day’s Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion can only com­pli­cate.

A Hil­lary Clin­ton vic­tory would drive the last nail in the cof­fin of Tran­sCanada’s Key­stone XL project. That pipeline would link the Al­berta oil­sands to the re­finer­ies of the Gulf of Mex­ico. U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has ve­toed it.

That veto com­pounded the pres­sures on the fed­eral govern­ment to act as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor for pipe­lines to get Al­berta’s bi­tu­men to tide­wa­ter along Cana­dian routes.

Don­ald Trump would re­verse Obama’s move. But that would be no cause to un­cork the cham­pagne. A Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would also turn its back on the Paris agree­ment on cli­mate change.

Wash­ing­ton’s with­drawal from the lat­est in­ter­na­tional pro­to­col on global warm­ing would up­set the al­ready del­i­cate bal­ance Trudeau has been try­ing to achieve be­tween his en­vi­ron­ment and his en­ergy agen­das. He be­lieves a more proac­tive ap­proach to cli­mate change will trans­late into more pub­lic good­will on pipe­lines.

But the re­cent fed­eral plan to set a na­tional floor price on car­bon was drafted un­der the as­sump­tion that the U.S. would com­ply with the Paris agree­ment.

Ab­sent an Amer­i­can com­mit­ment to re­duce green­house gas, Canada’s car­bon-pric­ing pol­icy could put its en­ergy in­dus­try at a se­ri­ous com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage.

A Trump vic­tory would sig­nal an un­prece­dented es­ca­la­tion in the pipeline wars, one that would not be con­tained to the U.S. and its Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion.

If, as ex­pected, Trudeau ap­proves a con­tro­ver­sial pipeline in B.C. next month, he will be pit­ting his govern­ment against a host of First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties, the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment and scores of his own elec­tion sup­port­ers.

Depend­ing on the out­come of Tues­day’s vote, he could also find him­self stand­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with Trump on the pipeline front line. Kryp­tonite in­deed! Chan­tal Hébert is a na­tional af­fairs writer. Her col­umn ap­pears Tues­day, Thurs­day and Satur­day.


De­mon­stra­tors protest over the Kin­der Mor­gan pipeline as the prime min­is­ter ar­rives at HMCS Dis­cov­ery.

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