BC government shake up puts Trans Mountain pipeline project in jeopardy

Federally approved project could be held up by roadblocks and a lengthy court resolution.

May 31, 2017   by Mia Rabson

OTTAWA — Federal Liberals are nervous about the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline project as a political shake-up in British Columbia seems likely to produce a provincial government that opposes the plan.

Liberals waited anxiously throughout the day for details of a deal between BC NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and were greeted at day’s end by news the deal had not only been signed, but specifically included a plan to oppose the pipeline.

Last fall Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the project to twin the existing pipeline that runs between Edmonton and Burnaby, BC the green light. BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark came around to supporting it over the winter after certain conditions she placed on it were met.

That approval likely cost her in the May 9 election, in which the Liberals fell one seat short of a majority and the Greens, with just three seats, were left holding the balance of power.

Clark intends to test her government in the Legislature before the end of June, a test she expects to lose. She would likely be replaced by Horgan and the NDP, and a minority government that would be propped up by the Greens.

Both Horgan and Weaver campaigned against Trans Mountain, a factor University of British Columbia professor George Hoberg said was certainly part of the election result and a sign that a majority of British Columbians don’t want the pipeline to be twinned.

“A lot has changed,” said Hoberg, of the politics around Trans Mountain.

While interprovincial pipelines remain the jurisdiction of Ottawa, he said a province could put up roadblocks, such as refusing logging permits for construction or insisting on a provincial environmental assessment.

“If it does either of those things the federal government would have to go to court to force BC to stand down and respect federal jurisdiction,” said Hoberg. “They would probably win. That would take a couple of years.”

He said any delays could further erode the confidence of investors, who were already showing some skittishness about the project during Kinder Morgan’s initial public offering.

Trudeau, who was in Italy, insisted the BC political shake-up doesn’t change the facts in favour of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr reiterated the message saying the project was approved based on science and extensive consultations and nothing has changed that.

“The approval will be there for the former government, the current government and any government after that,” Carr said.

However a source in the federal government acknowledged events in BC have made people in Ottawa nervous. The pipeline has already caused strife for the ruling party among supporters and even within the caucus with several BC Liberal MPs opposing it.

Federal Conservatives smell blood. Newly-minted Leader Andrew Scheer said there are “forces uniting” to kill the Trans Mountain project and Trudeau doesn’t have the political stamina to stand up to them.

“The Prime Minister personally approved this pipeline,” Scheer said in the House of Commons.

“He said that it was a fundamental responsibility to get Canadian energy to market. Will the Prime Minister finally stand up to the forces that are seeking to kill these jobs, or will he fold like a cardboard cutout?”

Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal strategist who is now a vice-president at Environics, said whatever happens in the BC legislature there will be areas of common ground and room for negotiation.

“If there is a new NDP/Green government they are also going to have demands,” he said. “What this likely will come down to is the economy.”

But federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she thinks Trans Mountain is “dead.”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will go ahead to deliver her province’s oil to the West Coast and jobs to British Columbia.

She doesn’t believe it makes much difference who is running BC, because the federal government has already approved the Kinder Morgan project.

She said the pipeline is in the best interests of Albertans and all Canadians – but especially to British Columbians.

“Quite honestly the province of BC can’t grow solely on the basis of escalating housing prices in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. They need stronger economic growth and the reality is that in Interior BC, they need the jobs that this pipeline will provide.”

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