The federal government is in negotiations with Kinder Morgan to “remove the uncertainty” surrounding its contested Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and will soon table legislation to “reassert and reinforce” federal authority over the C$7.4-billion project, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday, following a much-anticipated meeting with Premiers Rachel Notley of Alberta and John Horgan of British Columbia.
“I have instructed the minister of finance to initiate formal financial discussions with Kinder Morgan, the result of which will be to remove the uncertainty overhanging the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project,” Trudeau said. “I have also informed premiers Notley and Horgan today that we are actively pursuing legislative options that will assert and reinforce the government of Canada’s jurisdiction in this matter which we know we clearly have.”
Trudeau added that he was “willing to expand and improve upon his government’s $1.5-billion oceans protection plan in an effort to ensure the most stringent protections are available to reassure British Columbia its coasts are not at risk,” The Canadian Press reports.
But “despite all the commonality between the three of us, we continue to disagree on the question of moving diluted bitumen from Alberta to the port of Vancouver,” Horgan said. Notley’s government will introduce legislation this week that will allow it to restrict the flow of oil to B.C., CP says, while B.C.’s court reference question to determine its jurisdiction over the pipeline will be filed “within days”.
Horgan “said he’d hoped to have it done earlier, but these questions are complicated and take time to put together right,” CP states.
The federal legislation is expected to reassert federal authority over interprovincial pipelines, in a bid to “take the wind out of the sails of Horgan’s court challenge,” the news agency reports. Referring to the two provinces, Trudeau told reporters that “we must recognize that they remain at an impasse which only the government of Canada has the capacity and the authority to resolve.”
Horgan said he’d received Trudeau’s assurance that Ottawa won’t try to “punish” B.C. by withholding federal funding.
As for the negotiations with Kinder Morgan, Trudeau said he was “not ready” to say whether Canada would either buy the pipeline outright, or take a financial stake in the project. “We engaged in financial discussions with the pipeline owner, Kinder Morgan,” he told media. “This is a series of discussions that are happening in Calgary, Toronto, Houston, and New York. They won’t happen in public. As soon as we have something to announce, I promise you we will let you know.”
He said any deal will include protections for taxpayers.
Alberta has also “commenced discussions with Kinder Morgan to establish a financial relationship that will eliminate investor risk,” Notley said. “I am quite confident that, should these discussions end successfully, the pipeline will be built.”
During Notley’s post-meeting news conference, a reporter asked whether the governments were sending a signal to other companies that Ottawa will nationalize projects that run into trouble. “That’s language that no one is using,” Notley replied.
Ahead of the Sunday meeting, Horgan published a post on Medium that cited the recent experience of the Heiltsuk First Nation as one of the inspirations for his opposition to the pipeline. “I visited their territory after the grounding of the Nathan E. Stewart tugboat, which spilled more than 100,000 litres of diesel fuel into coastal waters near Bella Bella. It was an experience I’ll never forget,” he wrote.
“The diesel slick was everywhere you looked, and the smell from the fumes was overwhelming. From our small boat, we watched the waves push diesel over clam beds that had been harvested by the Heiltsuk for centuries,” Horgan recalled. “The community had been working for days alongside emergency responders to try and contain the spill and protect the clam beds. People were exhausted, and beside themselves with grief. The devastation I saw that day is considered by some to be a small spill, yet the Heiltsuk will live with the consequences for many years to come.”
In her news conference, Notley contended that double-hulled oil tankers are built to a much higher standard than ships like the Nathan E. Stewart. But Horgan said he would still stand up for British Columbians concerned about a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic and the economic and environmental impact of a heavy oil spill.
“Whether a community was built on forestry or mining, agriculture or small business, an oil spill will hurt all British Columbians, cost us tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, and make it harder for people to get ahead,” he wrote. “The national interest is not being served if we force the risk of catastrophe on unwilling communities. Nor does it advance true and meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
On Burnaby Mountain yesterday, several protesters were arrested after gathering at the Kinder Morgan construction site for a traditional feast. “A feast is a sacred ceremony,” said Stō:lo/St’át’imc/Nlaka’pamux multimedia artist Ronnie Dean Harris (Ostwelve). “It is our sovereign right to practice ceremony on this land.”
Watch House guardian Will George added that “60 years ago, the first pipeline was done without our consent. At the time, we couldn’t vote or hire lawyers. Today is a different day. Whatever is said in Ottawa this week without us, they should all know that we will be here until this pipeline is cancelled.”
The coverage on the Coast Protectors site includes quotes from several of the people attending the feast, including three who were arrested.
“We must stop this pipeline,” said Rose Deranger Desjarlais of the Athabasca Chipewyan Nation in northern Alberta. “It’s enough already. We have to stop the expansion of the tar sands. It is poisoning my people. It has poisoned me. Now, like many of my family, I have cancer in my body. We can no longer eat our fish. Our waters are poisoned.”
“My first job was working as an engineer for a gas pipeline company,” said 77-year-old Jack Boyceland, a retired engineer and teacher. “I have seen spills and accidents. My concern here is the tankers. I know the risks. They are too big. All it will take is one spill to set us back forever. We can’t allow a chance of a pipeline or tanker spill on this coast. “
In Ottawa, meanwhile, senior officials were warning the Trudeau government as early as 2016 that consultations with First Nations on the Trans Mountain project were “moving fast”, and comparing the process to another failed attempt to build a west coast pipeline.
“The newly-released email shows that bureaucrats believed the federal consultation process, led by the federal government’s Major Projects Management Office, was failing, jeopardizing the pipeline long before the provincial fallout, and before Trudeau even announced his decision,” National Observer reports.
“Other documents, released to National Observer in January, revealed that public servants had informed federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr that First Nations felt the consultations were ‘paternalistic,’ ‘inadequate,’ and ‘unrealistic.’”