A very polite, Canadian showdown
S grand showdowns go, it was so polite — so Canadian. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was calm and resolute. B.C. Premier John Horgan smiled a lot. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pausing between overseas jaunts, looked pained but sincere. Nobody raised their voices. Nobody flung insults.
The upshot of the Sunday meeting in Ottawa was that Ms. Notley will keep trying to get the pipeline built to bring Alberta bitumen from Edmonton to Vancouver and Mr. Horgan will keep trying to block it. Mr. Trudeau will send Finance Minister Bill Morneau to talk with Kinder Morgan, the pipeline company that wants to build the line, to find out what they need to carry on with the project.
Kinder Morgan wonders — with good reason — whether they are throwing their money into a project that will never come to fruition. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway line to Kitimat was abandoned on account of Indigenous and environmental objections. Trans Canada’s Energy East plan was abandoned because Quebec politicians would not hear of an oil pipeline under the St. Lawrence River.
As the next batter at the plate, Kinder Morgan
Ahas to wonder what its chances really are. The company announced April 8 that it was suspending preparatory work on the Trans Mountain expansion and would consult stakeholders. At the end of May it will either start construction or abandon the project.
Parliament probably has constitutional power to regulate the project. It may not, however, be able to prevent the B.C. government from obstructing, heel-dragging and generally interfering. It may not be able to prevent the kind of protest campaign that was seen in North Dakota two years ago when the Standing Rock Sioux sought to block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River.
The Standing Rock protest succeeded as long as then-president Barack Obama was in office. As soon as Donald Trump took over as president in 2017, he directed the Army Corps of Engineers to authorize the Missouri River crossing. The protesters yielded to the severe winter weather and the pipeline was built.
In light of all that, Kinder Morgan needs to know where Canada’s federal government stands — and where it will stand as the provincial resistance escalates and the protest camps fill. Politics being what it is, that’s difficult to predict. Mr. Trudeau firmly supported the project on Sunday. Where will he stand next summer, as eco-warriors and Indigenous protesters pitch their tents in the pipeline’s path?
At that point, harsh measures may be required to clear the path. In the meantime, Kinder Morgan and the government need to be infinitely patient, endlessly reasonable and exquisitely sensitive.
For those who have decided that the Alberta oil sands are inherently evil, there is nothing to discuss: the pipeline must be stopped — even if it is shown to be safe — as an indirect way of obstructing oil sands development.
But people in British Columbia are in the main reasonable, like everyone else. If they can be shown that the project is safe and beneficial, that the land and water and wildlife are well protected from the dangers it could pose, then they will support its construction. Kinder Morgan and the government will need to tell the Trans Mountain expansion story until B.C. people are tired of hearing it — and then tell it again.