The big pipeline predicament: how far will Trudeau go to get it built
OTTAWA — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says for her, today’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Columbia Premier John Horgan is about explaining once and for all why the Trans Mountain pipeline is a project of national importance.
Arriving on Parliament Hill to a blustery spring day, Notley scurried past two lone protesters carrying a sign who shouted at her to “protect Indigenous rights.”
“We’re looking forward to having a conversation about why this pipeline is so important for all Canadians,” Notley said as she and her officials disappeared into the main doors of Centre Block.
The meeting was scheduled to start at about 10 a.m. but started around 15 minutes late. In addition to the prime minister and two premiers, Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr are all in the room.
“We have important discussions ahead,” Trudeau said, as they sat down in his Centre Block office for the discussion.
Trudeau and both premiers plan to speak to the media following the conclusion.
For Horgan the meeting is about reiterating B.C.’s concerns about the impact of a spill of diluted bitumen from the pipeline. Horgan’s opposition to Trans Mountain is the main reason Kinder Morgan put the brakes on non-essential spending on the project a week ago.
Trudeau insists the pipeline is in federal jurisdiction and that Horgan’s government has no authority to put any roadblocks in the way. Horgan, who wants the ability to regulate how much diluted bitumen can flow through an expanded pipeline, wants the courts to determine if he has that ability.
A court reference however could take years to sort out and Trudeau’s government dismissed the idea of doing that themselves over the winter, believing asking the question about jurisdiction raises doubt that Ottawa isn’t in its rights to approve the pipeline. Ottawa insists its jurisdiction over pipelines is clearly spelled out in the Constitution.
Kinder Morgan has given Trudeau until the end of May to convince it going forward with construction is not going to result in the company spending billions of dollars to build a pipeline that won’t ever be used.
Today’s meeting, called by Trudeau Thursday as his plane was about to take off for the Summit of the Americas in Peru, is the first time he, Notley and Horgan have all been in the same room together to hash out the pipeline impasse.
Trudeau’s cabinet approved the pipeline in 2016, following an interim environmental review process that included assessing things such as the emissions that will be created from producing additional fossil fuels that will flow through it. The cabinet decided the project, which will build a new pipeline that runs parallel to an existing one but can carry twice as much, was in the national interest.
Trudeau has argued repeatedly his government has put in place the environmental protections and policies needed to reduce the risks of an oil spill, and that building the pipeline to get Canadian resources to market is necessary for the Canadian economy.
The big questions out of today’s meeting seem to be not whether Horgan will back down — that prospect is most unlikely — but whether Ottawa and Alberta are ready to say how far they will go to reassure Kinder Morgan investors.
Notley says Alberta will buy an equity stake in the pipeline, or even buy the whole thing if necessary.
Ottawa is looking at several different options to minimize the risk to the pipeline’s investors which could include insuring the return on investment, buying a stake in the project or putting up cash to cover cost overruns that result from construction delays.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press