BC NDP, Green Party leaders staunch opponents of Trans Mountain Expansion, slated to begin construction in Sept.
The BC election recounts are in and Christy Clark and the Liberals do not have a majority, meaning they will be frantically negotiating with Andrew Weaver and the Green Party for support of a minority government. What role might the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, bitterly opposed by Green members, play in those negotiations?
Recounts in two ridings that included previously unopened absentee ballots left the May 9 election results unchanged: 43 Liberal, 41 NDP and three for the Green Party.
What happens next?
Clark has already said in a statement released Thursday she is not prepared to resign: “…we have a responsibility to move forward and form a government. The final result reinforces that British Columbians want us to work together, across party lines, to get things done for them.”
UBC political scientist Richard Johnston says the Liberal leader has few options over the next few months.
“She either will face the Legislature, which she must do before the end of September because we have no budget and that means a speech to the throne,” he said in an interview, noting there is little chance Clark can strike a deal with Weaver for Green support.
The Green Party leader has promised to make a decision about who to back within a week, but an agreement with the NDP is the most likely outcome given their policy positions.
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Max Cameron, also of the UBC political science dept., agrees the Kinder Morgan pipeline will be front and centre in discussions between Weaver and the other leaders.
“Weaver has already said publicly that he does not support, under any circumstances, the export of diluted bitumen through the Port of Vancouver,” Cameron said in an interview.
“He’s been absolutely unequivocal about that and I would assume that he would seek assurances from whomever he decides to form an agreement with that they could also back his position on that.”
Clark is on the opposite side of the Trans Mountain Expansion issue. She negotiated up to $1 billion fiscal benefits over 20 years to be paid by Kinder Morgan and her government issued an environmental assessment certificate for the project.
“I think she’s going to live with it. Sometimes you’re better off losing so you can rise and fight another day with your basic principles intact. So, I don’t see her in a position to negotiate on that,” says Johnston, who wonders if Weaver wants to “die on that hill.”
He says the pipeline has “huge symbolic value” the BC environmentalists, who have a laundry list of objections including increased tanker traffic off the West Coast, the threat of a major spill inland or offshore, and greenhouse gas emissions from the Alberta oil sands.
“It’s not clear [t can be stopped, frankly, and Weaver may conclude that the important thing is to get the electoral system changed and re-orient the whole structure of party politics in this province in a way that might strengthen the environmental interest,” Johnston said.
“If Kinder Morgan is the sort of sacrifice you have to make to achieve that, he might be willing to make that sacrifice.”
Keith Brownsey agrees. The Calgary-based political scientist from Mount Royal University think Trans Mountain Expansion is eighth or ninth on the list of Weaver’s Top 10 priorities.
“And at the top of the list for the Greens are items such as campaign finance reform, proportional representation – half a dozen other issues like this that do not affect the oil and gas sector,” he said in an interview.
Johnston also points out that Horgan has union supporters who may be quite supportive of Trans Mountain Expansion.
“My gut sense is that he doesn’t like Kinder Morgan, but he’s got a brokerage challenge that Andrew Weaver doesn’t and that is he’s the party of union members and many of them work in the resource industry,” Johnston says.
Stewart Muir, executive director of research group Resource Works, says there is ample evidence the BC NDP’s relationship with the construction and resource unions is far from an easy one.
“The pre-campaign fracture with the Ironworkers, who openly supported the BC Liberals, is a prime example,” he said in an email.
“The Steelworkers, while heavily committed to the NDP, recently applauded when Trans Mountain announced a deal to procure pipe from a Steelworker shop on the Prairies, raising the uncomfortable question of whether they are also in favour of it being installed.”
Full disclosure: I am currently writing a 6-part series about the Energy Transition for Resource Works on a contract basis.
Cameron argues the ferocious opposition from environmental groups, especially on the lower mainland where NDP swept to victory, will ultimately persuade Horgan and Weaver to oppose the project and force Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make a very difficult political calculation about whether to support Kinder Morgan going forward.
“There are a number of [Liberal] MPs from the lower mainland who won in the last election whose seats are, frankly, in jeopardy as a result of Ottawa’s decision to support Trans Mountain Expansion. One of them has already publicly expressed his unhappiness with the decision,” Cameron says.
“There’s division within the ranks of the federal government, there’s a potential provincial government that’s opposed, and then the municipal governments. That’s a lot to swallow for the federal government. Of course, they have the constitutional right to proceed but they’re going to have to weigh the political costs as well.”
Handicapping this political battle is a tough job, but Johnston thinks that in the end, the pipeline will go ahead: “My hunch is that Horgan in particular and possibly even Weaver might be prepared to concede federal paramountcy.
Ed. note: Just before publication, Kinder Morgan issued a press release announcing a final investment decision had been reached by the company, contingent upon a successful completion of a 1.75 billion initial public offering.
“Upon the completion of the IPO, we will have secured satisfactory financing for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. We are excited to be moving forward on this tremendous project which is expected to benefit KMI and KML as well as our Trans Mountain shippers and Canada,” said Steve Kean, Kinder Morgan chief executive officer.