Two press events and pipeline situation remains unclear
Well, that was clear as mud.
Wednesday morning, both the federal and Alberta governments held news conferences to update us on the Kinder Morgan pipeline situation — but we still don’t know if the company will pull the plug in two weeks on the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion; and we still don’t know when or if Alberta will invoke retaliatory measures to turn off the oil taps to British Columbia.
In the first news conference, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Ottawa is “willing to indemnify the Trans Mountain expansion against unnecessary delays that are politically motivated.”
That sounds like a firm promise until you look at it closely.
Ottawa seems willing to cut a cheque to Kinder Morgan, but we don’t know for how much. And we don’t know if this is enough to convince the company to drop its threat to pull the plug May 31. Morneau’s offer to help Kinder Morgan — or anyone else who would step in to take over the project — is limited to “delays that are politically motivated.” What about delays that are caused by environmental protests?
Analysts say Morneau’s comments were designed to put pressure on the pipeline company to make a deal with Ottawa to keep the Trans Mountain expansion alive.
But Kinder Morgan CEO Steven Kean sounded unruffled when he said he “appreciates” Morneau’s comments, but “we are not yet in alignment and will not negotiate in public.”
Kean’s biggest problem isn’t getting money out of Ottawa, it’s getting B.C. Premier John Horgan out of the way.
It is Horgan’s passive-aggressive opposition that has delayed the project by a year at least and given investors the jitters.
With that in mind, Morneau took specific aim at Horgan during Wednesday’s news conference.
“Premier Horgan’s stated intentions are to do whatever it takes to stop the project, which is unconstitutional in its very purpose,” said Morneau.
OK, but what is Morneau going to do about it?
Aye, there’s the rub.
When it comes to getting movement from the Trans Mountain mule, the federal government is all carrot and no stick.
It clearly believes B.C. is acting unlawfully, but Ottawa is focused on giving financial carrots to Kinder Morgan, not beating Horgan with a political stick.
That job seems left up to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who held her own news conference in Edmonton.
“If the path forward for the pipeline through B.C. is not settled soon, I am ready and prepared to turn off the taps,” she declared.
A few hours later, Alberta MLAs passed the legislation necessary to shut off the oil taps to B.C.
Bill 12 has the euphemistic title, Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act, but its goal is to restrict the flow of refined petroleum products to B.C. as retribution for Horgan’s pipeline opposition.
But we don’t know when, or if, Notley will turn off the spigot.
The act has to be proclaimed by cabinet, which has yet to pass the necessary regulations and issue export permits to oil companies.
Notley apparently wants to keep the legislation hanging like a sword of Damocles over Horgan’s head. She won’t say when it will drop: “It could happen in 24 hours; it could happen over a much longer period of time.”
But cutting off the flow of petroleum to B.C. doesn’t mean Horgan will back down. That’s the other rub. Horgan maintains there is nothing to back down from. He insists he is doing nothing illegal or unconstitutional. He is merely trying to protect his province’s environment by sending the issue of pipeline jurisdiction to the courts for a ruling.
He doesn’t mind waiting. Of course, Kinder Morgan and the Alberta government are tired of waiting. That’s why we’re in this pipeline/political/constitutional mess.
And it is sure to get messier. Notley is still interested in buying the project outright from Kinder Morgan if necessary.
“We will do whatever is necessary to make sure that construction of the pipeline resumes this summer on schedule and that what is done reflects the best use of resources to best represent the people of Alberta.”
At least I think that means she’s still interested.
Like everything else said Wednesday, it’s not exactly crystal clear.