Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to confirm this week that his government will approve at least one new pipeline to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta and Saskatchewan to world markets, amid mixed messages from the PM and a key cabinet lieutenant that failed to subdue criticism from pro- and anti-pipeline forces.
“I have been crystal clear for years now on pipelines,” Trudeau told a First Nations audience in Saskatchewan, where Premier Brad Wall has heavily promoted the fossil sector. “One of the fundamental responsibilities of any Canadian prime minister—and this goes back centuries, from grain on railroads to fish and fur—is to get Canadian resources to international markets.”
At the same time, Trudeau struck back at Conservative interim Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose, who has accused his government of taking too long to decide the fate of TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Energy East pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion.
“What the Conservatives still refuse to understand,” Trudeau said, “is that in order to get our resources to market in the 21st century, we have to be responsible around the environment. We have to respect concerns that communities have and we have to build partnerships with Indigenous peoples.”
The government’s position was further complicated by Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s remarks earlier in the week. Garneau appeared to breathe unexpected new life into Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline a proposal that was approved by the previous government but widely dismissed more recently as unlikely to proceed. That plan would drive a twin pipeline across remote central British Columbia to the port of Kitimat.
As recently as February, Enbridge Inc.’s chances of completing Northern Gateway had been declared “remote” by the company’s own CEO, in part because the government had promised to restore a long-standing ban, lifted by its Conservative predecessors, on large oil tanker traffic off the British Columbia coast. That campaign commitment was reiterated in Trudeau’s ministerial mandate letter to Garneau last November.
But this week, the minister equivocated on exactly what the government meant by the word ‘moratorium,’ telling Bloomberg News that “when we have worked out exactly what that means, we’ll let you know.”
The remark set off alarm in British Columbia, a province that contributed 17 seats to the Liberal majority. “Of the 230,000 votes the Conservatives lost across Canada, 150,000 were lost in B.C., mainly in ridings that touch salt water,” The Tyee noted.
Trudeau later reiterated his view that “the Great Bear rainforest [where the Northern Gateway would pass] is no place for a…crude pipeline.”
The apparent to-and-fro prompted one prominent anti-pipeline activist to see a tactical manoeuvre at play. “I think they are trying to rehabilitate” Northern Gateway, Kai Nagata of the Vancouver-based Dogwood Initiative told the Tyee, “so that when they finally announce its demise it seems like an acceptable trade-off for building Kinder Morgan or Energy East.”
Nagata warned that any actual revival of the plan would be met with renewed resistance. “We’ve spent 10 years in the dojo practicing for this scenario under the Conservative government,” Nagata told the Vancouver news outlet, “and all of the same tools are still available.”