Horgan says B.C. will continue pipeline fight
VICTORIA — B.C.’s premier is vowing to continue legal challenges against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, in what may now be mostly symbolic opposition to a project Ottawa has again approved.
John Horgan said he’s disappointed the federal government gave another green light Tuesday to a plan to twin the existing pipeline from near Edmonton to Burnaby, which will triple capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.
B.C. has maintained an oil spill on the ocean from increased tanker traffic would be catastrophic, though it has also acknowledged it lacks the power to regulate or ban tankers.
While B.C. will continue two court challenges, Horgan said the province will grant any lawfully requested permits to start construction on the twinned pipeline this summer.
“Although I regret the federal government’s decision, it is within their authority to make that decision,” he said.
The premier did not rule out throwing the B.C. government’s support behind future First Nations or environmental challenges, but said he’d consider it on a case-by-case basis.
Ottawa’s approval did not come as a surprise, given the federal government purchased the pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018, saying its expansion was in the national interest to get more oil from Alberta to overseas markets.
Horgan’s entrenched opposition is equally unsurprising, given the B.C. NDP campaigned in 2017 “to use every tool in our tool box to stop the project from going ahead” and its minority government holds power through an agreement with the B.C. Green party that says the province must do everything it can to block Trans Mountain.
But it appears Horgan is mostly out of options, said Richard Johnston, Canada Research Chair in public opinion, elections and representation at the University of B.C. “We’re into a kind of symbolic phase now as far as the B.C. government is concerned,” he said.
“What else can he do? It’s clear he can’t engage in permitting actions whose obvious intent is to destroy the pipeline, the courts have made that clear.”
B.C. has issued 310 permits so far for the Trans Mountain project.
Horgan said B.C. is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to review proposed legislation – which the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled unconstitutional – to restrict the flow of oilsands bitumen into B.C. on environmental grounds.
And B.C. will also continue to challenge Alberta legislation that threatens to curtail the flow of oil to B.C. through the existing pipeline if B.C. continues to oppose the expansion.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney praised the federal approval, and called for immediate construction.
“This second approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t a victory to celebrate, it’s just another step in a process that has, frankly, taken too long,” said Kenney.
“That’s why we’ll measure success not by today’s decision, but by the beginning of actual construction and, more importantly, by completion of the pipeline.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada must twin the pipeline to improve the economy, but that he is also confident of the environmental protections put in place.
“To British Columbians who worry about a spill, for example, know that we take your concerns very seriously,” said Trudeau.
“Our top priority is making sure there’s no spill in the first place. But we know we need to be prepared for anything.”
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said there are gaps in Ottawa’s proposed marine response plan – mainly around spill preparedness and response capacity for local governments and First Nations.
First Nations and environmental groups lined up Tuesday to denounce the decision and promise protests and court action.
Trudeau said he’s confident his government has addressed concerns about a lack of meaningful First Nations consultation, and impact on endangered killer whales, raised by the Federal Court of Appeal when it quashed approval for the pipeline in 2018.
Trudeau also said he’d welcome Aboriginal investment in the pipeline, which several Indigenous-backed groups have shown interest in pursuing.
“It could be an equity stake, revenue sharing, or something else altogether. We’re coming to the table with an open mind.”
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he’ll work to find additional ways to oppose Trans Mountain.
“Mr. Trudeau fails on the climate file, he fails on this file and frankly I think Canadians deserve better,” said Weaver.
“It’s a sad day for all, that this has moved forward purely for political reasons and not for economic of environmental reasons.”
Protests and legal challenges are likely to ramp up as construction begins in the coming weeks.
“There is still a number of immediate steps to do in terms of permitting,” said Trudeau.
“But the plan is to have shovels in the ground this summer.”
Trudeau’s approval of the pipeline sends a message that “this is a government prepared to stay the course on the courses of action that it adopts,” said Johnston.
But it could also come with serious ramifications for the Trudeau government’s chances in B.C. during this fall’s federal election, said Johnston.
“I think the Liberals were already in serious trouble in parts of the country with the parts of the electorate that would be most concerned with this decision, environmentalists in B.C. and residents of the coast generally,” said Johnston.
“The Liberals have lost ground in the polls. I think they are in serious trouble.
“In Alberta, this isn’t going to salvage their position. No change there, they are just going to lose those seats I think.
“And then for the rest of the country the election will turn on other questions.”