With the Liberal government nearing its self-imposed deadline for approving or declining permission for Texas-based Kinder Morgan to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain diluted bitumen pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver harbour, the Globe and Mail asks: When is a ‘yes’ really a ‘no’?
The government has promised its decision on the roughly C$7-billion project by December 19. It “has laid the political groundwork for approval,” reporter Campbell Clark observes, “talking about how Canada must both get resources to market and address climate change. On the climate side, an agreement with premiers is being hammered out for December. Two weeks ago, Mr. Trudeau announced a $1.5-billion marine-safety plan, a key step to win British Columbia’s endorsement for the proposal. Last week, Natural Resources Minister James Carr talked about the importance of getting a pipeline route for oil exports to Asia.”
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
Climate specialists, however, have made it clear to the government that it cannot meet its high-profile climate commitments while approving new fossil export capacity. “It makes no sense to build new pipelines that would expand the tar sands to over 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, when the carbon budget for the entire Canadian economy will be only 150 million tonnes,” said Keith Stewart, director of Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaign
The conflict in goals leads Clark to ask: even if the government elects to approve the expansion, “is Justin Trudeau willing to campaign for a pipeline? That does not just mean approving it, but trying to win over public opinion in B.C. [Because] when push comes to shove, that will probably be crucial to determining whether Trans Mountain ever gets built.”
Indeed, the pipeline faces fierce opposition in British Columbia’s lower mainland, where former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt recently warned the prime minister faces an “insurrection” if the Trans Mountain expansion is forced through. In the last general election, British Columbia delivered 17 seats to Trudeau’s Liberal party; Alberta sent four.
Clark provocatively casts the question as one of the prime minister’s personal courage, asking: “Is Mr. Trudeau game for this fight?” He offers a goading comparison to the PM’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, who “approved the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal with more than 200 conditions, then distanced himself, leaving the fate of the project to pipeline promoter Enbridge. Gateway essentially collapsed under public opposition.”
Clark does not appear to consider the possibility that, in this instance, the same strategy on Trudeau’s part might be both politically canny and the better part of valour.