Trudeau sees the sunny side of pipeline collapse
Oh, so that’s it. The pipeline rejection is just a bump in the road. In fact, you could even see it as proof of just how robust the Liberal approval process is.
That’s what a person might think, listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, as he actually tried to turn this mess into an affirmation of his ideals.
He said he’s “disappointed” with the ruling, mind you. He knows it “really hurt” Alberta. Ottawa will do better and meet the Federal Court of Appeal’s concerns.
At one point, he slammed the Harper government’s approach and said “the court has just confirmed that was never going to work.”
Actually, the court ruled on a Trudeau government approach that was never going to work.
But the court also agrees with Trudeau on the need for rigour, it seems.
“This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, that the only way to get projects built in this country is to do them responsibly.”
Premier Rachel Notley, distancing herself from her favourite ally, demands a legislative cannonade, a federal bill to reassert the former approval. She decries the “regulatory merry-go-round that isn’t going to help anybody.”
The job now is to get the project back to where it was last Wednesday, before the court ruling came down.
It had been signed and sealed. This was an officially approved interprovincial pipeline, ramping up to full construction.
Now it’s nothing. The approval process even overturned a federal cabinet order. The workers will be going home, the contractors packing up.
Getting back to “YES” (that is, last Wednesday) will take time and money. And nobody knows what further legal horrors might await, even after another approval.
But Trudeau paints it as a simple matter of improving consultation and looking into maritime transportation.
Trudeau also says that if Ottawa hadn’t bought the project, it would be dead today.
Actually, if Ottawa hadn’t purchased it for $4.5 billion in May, the assets would now be a much better buy.
“Why didn’t the federal government wait until after the ruling?” retired oil and gas analyst Gordon Tait asks in an email.
“They could have acquired the pipeline for a lower price than they paid a few months ago. There was no downside in waiting.
“If the expansion had been approved, Kinder Morgan shareholders would have paid for the expansion — not Canadian taxpayers.”
Other people are dubious about the Federal Court of Appeal, a little-known body that examines federal actions.
It does appear to have enormous power that few people knew existed.
But the legal experts I’ve spoken to agree that this judgment is well-argued and sound, despite doubts about suddenly including maritime transport.
Blaming the court only lifts the onus from the federal government, which failed to meet conditions that should have been obvious.
Trudeau wants to correct the failings as quickly as possible through Indigenous consultation and work on the marine issue.
After that, the National Energy Board could again approve, and cabinet would issue another order. Construction would restart. But the new approval and cabinet order, just like the first ones, would then be subject to appeal. Pipeline opponents in B.C. are not likely to pass up that chance.
If the court agreed to hear the case, the Trans Mountain pipeline would face many more months of uncertainty, and even a second rejection.
We just don’t know. That’s why the most telling words spoken Wednesday about Alberta and Canada came from New York.
“There is clearly a crisis of confidence in Canada,” Suncor CEO Steve Williams told an investor conference.
Suncor won’t start its scheduled expansion projects “without more clarity on pipelines,” he said.
“I would want to see actual, physical progress on the ground . . .”
And I would like to see a unicorn.
Premier Rachel Notley meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton, September 5, 2018.