If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t figured it out yet, John Horgan is not backing down over the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Any illusions that the BC premier was simply placating Andrew Weaver to maintain the NDP minority government were dispelled Saturday when the BC government announced it was challenging Canadian authority to assess, approve, and regulate natural resource projects. The lover’s quarrel between Trudeau and Horgan is now a death match and there can be only one winner. The Prime Minister now has only two courses of action.
But first things first.
Q. From Trans Mountain Expansion opponents, why doesn’t Canada just recognize BC will never accept such a significant environmental threat (from their point of view) to the West Coast marine environment and give up?
A. Because there is $500 billion of investment in natural resource development investment on the line (revealed last week by Natural Resources Minister Jim), not to mention the integrity of the Canadian government (investors are watching, worried that if one province can stare down Ottawa, then no federally approved resource project is safe).
Trudeau has painted himself into a corner.
Since approving Trans Mountain Expansion in late 2016, he has steadfastly maintained the 525,000 b/d pipeline that will carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to Burnaby on the West Coast will be built. His latest assertion came during a recent town hall in Nanaimo.
BC’s challenge in the Federal Court of Appeals keeps Trudeau in the corner. If there was ever a chance for a negotiated end to this dispute, that opportunity has evaporated.
What options does Trudeau have left?
One, he hauls out the Canadian government’s big red cheque book and spends his way out of the constitutional and political pickle.
For instance, late last week a BC-based digital supercluster consortium was chosen to share a portion of $950 million in federal innovation funding. BC Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston, who appeared to be plenty pleased with the prospect of a big fat federal cheque, said the the supercluster would “fund more than 100 collaborative projects involving over 1,000 organizations to create thousands of new jobs.”
Maybe that cheque gets lost in the mail.
Or, Trudeau flies to Victoria for a parley with Horgan and flat out asks how many zeros need to be on a cheque to buy the Premier’s co-operation.
Neither approach is likely to work.
Nothing Horgan has said or done since his NDP formed government last summer suggests he can be bought or intimidated.
Then what is the Prime Minister to do?
He should call NEB head Peter Watson into his Centre Block office and tell him that henceforth the national energy regulator will issue all approvals and permits normally provided by the BC government and the City of Burnaby. The NEB has already granted Kinder Morgan relief several times from Burnaby bylaws because of bureaucratic foot dragging.
If the National Energy Board Act doesn’t allow him to direct the regulator in this manner, then his government should introduce an amendment to the act that will give him the authority, in extraordinary circumstances, to direct Watson on these matters.
Failing that, there is always the NEB’s imminent replacement, the Canadian Energy Regulator.
Enabling legislation will be required and the required authorities can be written into the bill, though it’s uncertain if passage would occur before Kinder Morgan’s patience wears out.
Admittedly, my suggestions are the nuclear option.
And British Columbia would likely be political nuclear winter for the Trudeau Liberals by the fall 2019 election. The hold 17 seats in the Lower Mainland alone. The good news, I suppose, is that they have no seats to lose on the Island.
But what choice does the Prime Minister have? He doesn’t appear to have left himself a back door.
Trans Mountain Expansion has become a proxy for Canadian authority over natural resource development and he helped to make it so.
There is no room for a last minute deal.
Kinder Morgan has already hinted its investors may get antsy if the permitting issue isn’t resolved by Sept. (which already a year’s delay to construction).
Notley’s ban of BC wines has only inflamed BC public opinion, which helps Horgan and argues against a political compromise.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, a long-time NDP hack who is married to a former NDP MLA, is even more intransigent than Horgan.
The BC government’s anti-pipeline is led by Environment Minister George Heyman, a former executive director of the BC Sierra Club, and is supported by Attorney General David Eby, another rabid opponent.
Horgan and the BC NDP are closely aligned with coastal First Nations, who will be front and centre in expected noisy public protests.
And hanging over the entire mess is the NDP’s minority government agreement with the Greens that promises to fight Trans Mountain Expansion with “every tool in the toolbox.”
Barring a miracle, there is no wiggle room.
Trudeau either folds or rams the pipeline down BC’s throat. Both options are awful.