It was more than a little disingenuous for Alberta’s still newish UCP government to stand up and claim last week that its “perseverance” led to the start of construction of the long-delayed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
“Perseverance has got us to this point,” clucked Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage. “When others were criticizing our energy industry and the value of future pipelines, Albertans did not waver.”
I wish I’d been in the room for that announcement to see whether her cheeks glowed red at least a little bit in embarrassment.
That’s because while the United Conservative Party did indeed support the pipeline through the various trials and tribulations that got it this far, they weren’t in position to do anything terribly meaningful because they were not yet in power. It was actually this government’s archenemies – the federal Liberals and Alberta’s previous NDP government – that did all the heavy lifting.
This is all recent history but it seems some people have even shorter memories.
It could easily be argued, for example, that had the federal Liberals not spent a huge amount of their political capital in 2018, there would be nothing to celebrate now at all.
How could we so quickly forget that while Alberta was locked in battle with B.C., the Federal Court of Appeal quashed project approval in August 2018? Or that a mere 30 minutes after the court ruling was released, the federal government went ahead and completed the purchase of Kinder Morgan’s core Canadian assets for $4.5 billion? Or that Ottawa also committed to invest an additional $7.4 billion for the expansion? Or that just last June, the feds approved the project, albeit with 156 pretty tough conditions to be enforced by the Canada Energy Regulator?
But let’s give credit where it’s due. Wexiters take note.
Now, the UCP is right to acknowledge that the fight to get this pipeline built is not over. Pipeline haters in B.C. still plan to take this case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the pipeline poses a threat to the southern resident killer whales.
“Southern resident killer whales are already at their absolute limit when it comes to coping with ocean noise, vessel disturbance and the existing food shortage,” argues Ecojustice Canada, which is leading the challenge. “Increased threats from the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion will push these iconic whales even closer to extinction.”
It’s a significant concern. Although the federal National Energy Board argued the pipeline will pose no new threat to the whales, the pipeline expansion would carry nearly a million barrels of oil per day from Alberta to B.C.’s coast. It’s estimated that vessel traffic through B.C.’s Burrard Inlet could increase from five ships a month to as many as 34. This case is far from over.
The legal challenges are complex. The Federal Court of Appeal has agreed to hear six of 12 possible appeals simultaneously from opponents determined to overturn the Liberal government’s approval of the pipeline expansion.
The court said it would hear evidence on whether the federal government adequately consulted with Indigenous peoples before approving the project for a second time in June.
So why, you may wonder, is construction underway with so many dark clouds overhead?
“As these cases make their way through the courts, we will continue with all aspects of planning and construction,” the pipeline’s Crown corporation said in a written statement. “The applications are challenging the decisions made by the Canada Energy Regulator and the federal government, but do not in and of themselves negate the pre-existing approvals provided by those governmental authorities until and unless the court rules otherwise.”
Beyond cooling the fires of Western separatism, the federal government has other reasons to see the project done. One of the biggest is being able to say that purchasing the project wasn’t a mistake. If completed, the pipeline will deliver $500 million a year in federal corporate tax revenue, too – nothing to sneeze at.
And we have all heard how getting oil to market is vital to Canada’s economy, as well as Alberta’s. Nearly all the oil produced in Western Canada goes to the U.S. midwest and we’re being held hostage on price. We know if we can get that oil to tidewater on the West Coast, we will get a much fairer price from a vast array of energy-hungry new customers.
None of this will happen, however, if the pipeline doesn’t get built. And for all the UCP’s bluster, we know there’s only so much the provincial government can do.
Getting this pipeline built will require the ongoing commitment of the federal Liberals. It’s time the UCP admits that, like it or not, the future of Trans Mountain rests in the federal government’s hands.
Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief of Calgary’s Business.
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