Trudeau will buy his way out of B.C.-Alberta pipeline feud

It’s the solution to almost any problem in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. When something gets in the way of its plans, the government just buys its way out.

On Sunday, Trudeau announced that’s what will happen, if necessary, to get the Trans-Mountain pipeline project completed.

Trudeau met with Alberta Premier Rachel Notely and British Columbia Premier John Horgan Sunday and emerged from the meeting with his announcement.

“I have instructed the minister of finance to initiate formal financial discussions with Kinder Morgan, the result of which will be to remove the uncertainty overhanging the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau said the financial discussions with Kinder Morgan will not be in public but that “construction will go ahead.”

But how much money will the feds need to provide? And while money may appease Kinder Morgan, what if money isn’t enough to satisfy Horgan and the people west of Alberta in the path of the pipeline? Trudeau said on national television that Notely and Horgan remain at an impasse. How much cash will be needed to keep both of them happy?

“I have also informed premiers Notley and Horgan today that we are actively pursuing legislative options that will assert and reinforce the government of Canada’s jurisdiction in this matter which we know we clearly have,” Trudeau said.

Oh, so that’s what Trudeau has in mind. If all else fails and money isn’t enough to sweeten the deal for B.C, Trudeau will introduce legislation to ram the pipeline project down its throat.

Trudeau revealed that discussions with Kinder Morgan around assistance are already underway in Calgary, Toronto and New York City.

But what about the natives, who are ready to jump all over this project if they aren’t compensated? They were beating drums and marching with thousands of protesters back in March.

Rueben George, of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, told thousands of protesters at the time that it will take more rallies and protests to stop the project, which is set to increase the flow of oil products to 890,000 barrels up from 300,000 barrels per day.

“It’s going to take gatherings such as this … (to) make sure the environment is not laid to waste and taken away from future generations. This is what we stand for today,” George said at the demonstration last month.

The protesting and the squabbling over compensation to native groups and others has Kinder Morgan nervous. A little over a week ago, Kinder Morgan announced it was suspending all non-essential work on the pipeline. 

The company said it will take until May 31 to consult with stakeholders to determine whether the project will be permitted to continue construction through B.C. and whether shareholders can be protected.

“As KML has repeatedly stated, we will be judicious in our use of shareholder funds,” said Kinder Morgan chairman and CEO Steve Kean.

So now Trudeau has a real problem. He has to not only please British Columbia, Alberta and the natives. He also has to throw cash at Kinder Morgan.

He’ll have some support, though, from the business sector in British Columbia, anxious to see this pipeline completed. Back in March, Stewart Muir, who spoke in favour of the $7.4-billion project as executive director for the Resource Works Society, said it doesn’t have to be a decision between the environment and economy.

“Canada can have both. We can have the environment protected and respected and we can have the economic benefits that will allow Canada to be in future what it has been in the past,” Muir said.

Bernard Hancock, who works on a service rig and grew up in North Vancouver, said Canadians need jobs to support their families and save for retirement.

“The oil patch provides good paying work. It’s the only thing that ever paid me,” Hancock said.

Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary for the minister of environment and climate change, issued a statement at that rally back in March, saying he supported the project. He said the federal government is protecting the coast with its $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan and has consulted 118 potentially affected Indigenous groups on the project.

“The fact is, the Kinder Morgan pipeline already exists — it has been delivering oil to the port of Vancouver safely for over 60 years, and carrying diluted bitumen for three decades. This project would simply add capacity to the existing pipeline, and we’ve set 157 binding conditions to ensure it can be constructed and operated safely,” Wilkinson said.

But it should be clear by now, that the environmental concerns aren’t what’s really standing in the way of this project. The real problem is the cash the government will have to throw around to get the project completed. And even if the Trudeau government is committed to providing that cash, it will have to make sure it has enough to buy the support of Kinder Morgan, British Columbia, Alberta, the natives and most importantly, the Canadian taxpayers.

The bill for this project just went up. And once the protests start (and they will), expect the bill to rise even further.

Is all this worth it? Trudeau thinks it is. British Columbia thinks it is. Alberta thinks it is. The natives aren’t so sure. And the Canadian taxpayers aren’t so sure either. It’s not a done deal yet. That may be a long way off.

 

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson is a retired Canadian journalist who covered a wide range of political stories over a 35-year career in newspapers and radio. He was at Place du Canada in Montreal in 1995 for the Unity rally on the eve of the Quebec referendum. He interviewed former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and numerous cabinet ministers, provincial premiers and many other key political figures both provincially and federally. Most recently he served in the Press Operations Crews at the 2015 Pan Am Games and 2017 Invictus Games.