OTTAWA – A federal investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline is one of the possibilities the Liberal government is considering to help get the controversial project completed, says Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says her province is prepared to invest in the pipeline directly if it would help keep investors on board — a notion her opposition rival, United Conservative party Leader Jason Kenney, says he would support as long as Ottawa also puts money on the table.
Opposition from British Columbia, including a threat to pass regulations that would prevent additional oil flows through the province, spooked Trans Mountain investors enough that Kinder Morgan called a halt Sunday to all non-essential spending on the project.
The company would be open to government investment if it brought certainty to the project, CEO Steve Kean said Monday.
Carr isn’t saying that a federal investment is a certainty, only that it is among the options on the table, along with legal and regulatory manoeuvres.
“We’re looking at all available options,” Carr said, without getting into specifics.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dodged the question of federal investment during a news conference in Montreal, saying only there is a “broad range of options” for Ottawa to consider.
Trudeau said he had “a long conversation” with B.C. Premier John Horgan by phone Sunday night and said he doesn’t think Horgan should be intervening in an area of federal jurisdiction.
“I impressed upon him the importance of working together and respecting the federal responsibility for protecting things that are in the national interest,” Trudeau said. “This is a pipeline in the national interest and it will get built.”
The federal government has jurisdiction over infrastructure that crosses provincial borders, including highways and pipelines. Trans Mountain runs between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C., and the expansion, approved by Ottawa in November 2016, would triple its capacity.
Conservative MP Chris Warkentin says Trudeau should immediately demand a meeting with Horgan if he is really serious about getting the pipeline built. The MP says he wouldn’t oppose government investments in projects like this, but said he’s not hearing the company ask for handouts.
Rather, says Warkentin, Kinder Morgan wants government to solve the political impasse.
B.C. says it is going to ask the courts to decide if it can legally regulate against increased oil flows through pipelines. Alberta and the federal government insist it does not. Horgan says he will frame a question to the court to decide the issue.
Canada considered asking the Supreme Court for a jurisdictional ruling earlier this year, but opted not to because it would have implied there was doubt about jurisdiction, when federal officials say there is none.
A reference also would have taken at least a year, possibly two, with the project hanging in the balance in the interim.
Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, said the federal Liberals are up against the wall because they have alienated some of their environmental supporters by backing this pipeline and now they may end up with nothing to show for it.
Crowley says the previous government wasn’t able to get pipelines built and Trudeau’s promise that he would introduce environmental protections and climate change policies like the carbon tax in order to get buy-in to build pipelines thus far has failed.
“We have not yet brought together the winning conditions,” said Crowley.
He said he doesn’t think ultimately federal financing will drive this project to completion.
“This has now become an issue of if the law prevails in Canada or if angry minorities can prevail,” said Crowley.
Kinder Morgan already has a court injunction requiring protesters to stay 50 metres away from its Burnaby marine terminal work sites. More than 160 people have been arrested since then, including Green party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said if the Trudeau government had properly fulfilled its promise to provide an improved, fully independent environmental review of the project maybe they would have been able to get the social licence for the project.
The Liberals introduced an overhauled environmental assessment process in legislation now making its way through Parliament. However Trans Mountain was approved in 2016 under an earlier interim process.