If Justin Trudeau blinks on Trans Mountain, when does he stop blinking?
The Vancouver downtown buzzed Saturday afternoon with a protest march against the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Will it be enough to persuade the Prime Minister to scratch the project? Unlikely.
Justin Trudeau knew this was coming. Hell, everyone in the country knew it was coming.
Opponents of Trans Mountain Expansion have been promising a pipeline Apocalypse for months. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan threatened to throw himself in front of the bulldozers. Environmental groups and First Nations pledged to organize a massive Dakota Access-style civil disobedience campaign.
I could go on.
Public opinion polls may show the province split on building the 525,000 b/d pipeline from Alberta to the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby, but Metro Vancouver is leading the charge against.
Saturday’s parade and speeches and social media outrage were entirely predictable.
They were predictable partly because the federal government has been sending strong messages that an approval for Trans Mountain is imminent (Ottawa must make a decision by Dec. 19).
On Tuesday, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said the Trudeau Government is less interested in a revival of the Keystone XL pipeline because Canada needs to diversify its markets for crude oil rather than relying entirely on the Americans.
“It [Keystone XL] doesn’t get oil to export markets in Asia, and it’s a goal of the government of Canada to expand its export markets,” he told reporters.
That comment followed last week’s announcement of a $1.5 billion upgrade to West and East coast marine shipping safety. And consistent statements for the past year that Northern Gateway is not supported by the Liberals, including strong messages from the Prime Minister that he is not interested in a route through the Great Bear Rain Forest.
If Northern Gateway is dead, that leaves only Trans Mountain to get Alberta oil sands crude to the West Coast for export to Asia.
And if Asian exports truly are a goal of the Canadian government, then the Trans Mountain approval is a fait accompli.
West Coast environmentalists have said as much. Kai Nagata of Dogwood Initiative thinks Ottawa will green light Trans Mountain, and he warns that eco-activists are prepared to fight back.
“I think it’s just inevitable that people feel like their backs are against the wall whether it’s a justice issue for indigenous people or a climate issue for young people who feel as though they are hanging off the edge of a cliff,” he said in an interview.
“We’re going to see people in increasingly hardline stances towards crude oil and infrastructure expansion.”
No surprise, then, that opponents plan to ramp up pressure – cue Sunday’s protest march – and hope Trudeau blinks.
But if Trudeau blinks on Trans Mountain, when does he stop blinking?
If he blinks, then you can stick a fork in the Energy East pipeline project. Can you imagine the political price Trudeau would pay if he stood down in British Columbia but tried to push TransCanada’s proposal through Ontario and Quebec?
Same with Keystone XL if it is resurrected under incoming American president Donald Trump.
Mining and forestry exports? What about Quebec hydroelectric exports, which are opposed – incredibly – by New England environmentalists?
Trans Mountain approval is a watershed moment for the Trudeau Government. The economy is sluggish, the loonie is languishing, and federal coffers are empty. The Liberals know they need to do something to jumpstart the national economy.
With oil prices expected to revive in 2017, increased crude oil exports are the easiest policy lever to pull. If they don’t pull it, what else have the Liberals got? With the Eastern Canada manufacturing sector on the ropes, not much.
Justin Trudeau has lived and worked in the lower mainland of British Columbia. He knows the political culture and he understands the strength of the West Coast environmental movement. The Liberals are walking into a fight over Trans Mountain with their eyes wide open.
Don’t expect the Prime Minister to blink.