MPs Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart prior to their arrest. Photo: News 1130

If Trudeau wavers, then $500 billion of resource development projects could be imperiled

Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart were arrested Friday after they violated a court injunction near the Kinder Morgan tank farm in Burnaby. The British Columbia MPs are staunch opponents of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project. Not heroes nor villains, but part of the loose leadership group that is calling upon Canadians to engage in civil disobedience. We can respect their ethical choices while still supporting the RCMP who arrested them and the Trudeau Government, which must not flinch no matter how many Canadians cross the line.

This point in the story was inevitable.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, BC Premier John Horgan.

The BC NDP government of John Horgan has pulled every possible rabbit out of the hat, threatening to restrict or stop diluted bitumen shipments from Alberta altogether and supporting the City of Burnaby’s thinly disguised obstruction of Kinder Morgan’s tree cutting permits and re-zoning applications.

Those efforts are almost certainly doomed.

BC says it will seek leave for the Federal Court of Appeal to rule on both disputes, where my experts say it will lose.

Which begs a very interesting question. Why would Horgan hire several high-powered lawyers (Thomas Berger, Joseph Arvay) to lead the government’s legal strategy and head up reference case applications to the Federal Court of Appeal when he doesn’t have to?

Kinder Morgan hinted last fall that its investors’ appetite for delay was limited and if the permitting and approval process continued to be hounded and harassed, then the project might be cancelled.

More foot dragging and obstruction would seem to be the logical strategy for both BC and Burnaby.

Asking the Federal Court of Appeal to rule risks an adverse outcome. If BC loses, then Canada’s exclusive jurisdiction and ability to run roughshod over junior government objections would be confirmed.

Is BC trying to limit its liability – Attorney General David Eby has already conceded Victoria could be on the hook for billions – if Kinder Morgan sues?

Is Horgan trying to limit the political damage he’s inflicting upon BC’s relationship with Alberta and the federal government by setting up a defeat in court?

“We did everything possible,” he could argue to Andrew Weaver, whose tiny caucus of four Green Party MLAs is propping up the minority government, “But the courts were just not with us.”

But let’s be frank. The politicking and legal maneuvers by the Province and Burnaby were always going to be the under card bouts that warmed up the crowd before the main event, which in this case is going to be protests led by coastal First Nations, environmental groups, and prominent leaders like May and Stewart.

Stewart, the NDP member for Burnaby South, conducted a survey last month that showed 44 per cent of locals opposed the pipeline and 23 per cent of those folks were prepared to engage in the same sort of civil disobedience that plastered the image of he and May on the front page yesterday.

“When these polling results are applied to the four million adult residents, they suggest about 400,000 British Columbians – 10% of the adult population – are considering direct action against this pipeline construction,” Stewart said at the time. 

Combine that with the implacable opposition and moral authority of the First Nations – like the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, organizer of the 7,000-plus protest on March 10 in Burnaby – and we have a recipe for a long, loud, and probably violent dissent that will keep the RCMP busy for months and months.

Nevertheless, Trudeau must not blink.

As Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr noted during the announcements to changes in the National Energy Board and environmental impact assessment process in early Feb., there is a tremendous amount of capital poised to invest in Canadian resources, which is how Canada creates good paying jobs and pays for its generous public services.

“A new wave of resource development is coming with more than $500 billion in projects planned over the next 10 years. We are building a better Canada, where investors, companies and all Canadians can have confidence that good projects will be approved in a timely manner and held to the highest standard,” Carr said.

The very integrity of the Canadian government and its approvals are on the line.

If the Prime Minister folds on this project, then any mine or hydro transmission line or pipeline approved by Canada is vulnerable to the same sort of pressure being applied by BC, Burnaby, and allied federal politicians.

Maybe there was a time for compromise, when a middle ground solution could have been negotiated.

The arrests of May and Stewart demonstrate that time is long gone.

The only option left is a brutal slugfest to the finish line later this year.

Alberta and other provinces that rely on federal approvals for resource developments better hope that Trudeau doesn’t lose his nerve.