A messy week in pipeline politics, law
Since taking office, Justin Trudeau has sought to portray his government as a champion for First Nations reconciliation and for the energy industry.
Last week’s court decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project appears to show the federal government faltering on both fronts.
The Federal Court of Appeals overturned the government’s approval of the pipeline project, finding the government had failed to adequately consult with Indigenous groups, and had not properly considered as an environmental hazard the impact of increased tanker traffic on the B.C. coast.
To be clear, the court did not concoct some imaginary bar for the federal government to reach in its consultations with affected
First Nations. Rather, the court found the government had failed to meet its own established guidelines for meaningful consultation. “Canada’s efforts fell well short of the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada,” wrote the judge.
Meanwhile, the ruling, which reportedly caught the oilpatch off guard, has surely raised further questions about the stability of investing in Canada’s energy sector.
Even the perception of an unreliable playing field is damaging to Canada’s economy, let alone the potential loss of a project that, as Finance Minister Bill Morneau described it, “means thousands of wellpaying jobs for the middle class.”
The court decision has left Canada holding the $4.5-billion bag on a pipeline to nowhere, thanks to its just-approved deal to buy the project. Even if a way forward is found, the project’s cost will almost certainly grow, as will the timeline for its completion.
As if the news weren’t grim enough, there are also repercussions for national cohesion.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley lashed out after the court ruling, saying her province would no longer participate in the federal climate change plan, the loss for the Trudeau government of likely the most sympathetic Alberta premier it will ever see. The ruling has fuelled rumblings of Western alienation.
If there was any winner in the court decision, it may have been the Indigenous groups that pointed to the ruling as one in a long line of decisions recognizing their rights and title. The federal Liberals came to power promising a new era in “nation to nation” consultation on the road to reconciliation. Any pretence that pretty words and token gestures would be enough to get Canada there were laid to rest this week.
The duty to consult is real, and the road will be long.