OTTAWA – Federal Liberals are nervous about the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline project as a political shake-up in British Columbia seems likely to produce a provincial government that opposes the plan.
Liberals waited anxiously throughout the day for details of a deal between B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and were greeted at day’s end by news the deal had not only been signed, but specifically included a plan to oppose the pipeline.
The project – to twin the existing pipeline that runs between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C. – was given the green light by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last fall. B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark came around to supporting it over the winter after certain conditions she placed on it were met.
That approval likely cost her in the May 9 election, in which the Liberals fell one seat short of a majority and the Greens, with just three seats, were left holding the balance of power.
Clark intends to test her government in the Legislature before the end of June, a test she expects to lose. She would likely then be replaced by Horgan and the NDP, whose minority government would be propped up by the Greens.
Both Horgan and Weaver campaigned against Trans Mountain, a factor University of British Columbia professor George Hoberg said was certainly part of the election result and a sign that a majority of British Columbians don’t want the pipeline to be twinned.
“A lot has changed,” said Hoberg, of the politics around Trans Mountain.
While interprovincial pipelines remain the jurisdiction of Ottawa, he said a province could put up road blocks, such as refusing logging permits for construction or insisting on a provincial environmental assessment.
“If it does either of those things the federal government would have to go to court to force B.C. to stand down and respect federal jurisdiction,” said Hoberg. “They would probably win. That would take a couple of years.”
He said any delays could further erode the confidence of investors, who were already showing some skittishness about the project during Kinder Morgan’s initial public offering Tuesday.
Trudeau, who was in Italy, insisted Tuesday the B.C. political shake-up doesn’t change the facts in favour of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr reiterated the message saying the project was approved based on science and extensive consultations and nothing has changed that.
“The approval will be there for the former government, the current government and any government after that,” Carr said.
However a source in the federal government acknowledged events in B.C. have made people in Ottawa nervous. The pipeline has already caused strife for the ruling party among supporters and even within the caucus with several B.C. Liberal MPs opposing it.
Federal Conservatives smell blood. Newly-minted Leader Andrew Scheer said there are “forces uniting” to kill the Trans Mountain project and Trudeau doesn’t have the political stamina to stand up to them.
“The Prime Minister personally approved this pipeline,” Scheer said in the House of Commons.
“He said that it was a fundamental responsibility to get Canadian energy to market. Will the Prime Minister finally stand up to the forces that are seeking to kill these jobs, or will he fold like a cardboard cutout?”
Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal strategist who is now a vice-president at Environics, said whatever happens in the B.C. legislature there will be areas of common ground and room for negotiation.
“If there is a new NDP/Green government they are also going to have demands,” he said. “What this likely will come down to is the economy.”
But federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Tuesday she thinks Trans Mountain is “dead.”
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