Hours after a landmark court decision striking down federal approval of the C$13.8-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced she was withdrawing her province from the pan-Canadian climate plan “until the federal government gets its act together”.
“And let’s be clear,” she claimed. “Without Alberta, that plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
Notley said Trudeau had assured her Thursday that Ottawa remains committed to the controversial project, and added that her announcement “has no impact on Alberta’s own climate change plan, or on the carbon tax her government introduced on January 1, 2017, and raised a year later,” CBC reports. “But her declaration that Alberta plans to pull out of the federal climate change plan leaves proposed future carbon tax increases in doubt.”
Just days before the court decision, federal Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna said other provincial governments that diverge from the federal floor price on carbon shouldn’t expect to receive their share of Ottawa’s $2-billion low-carbon fund.
Notley, who faces a general election in seven months, went so far as to call the ruling a threat to Canadian sovereignty, and insisted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. She asserted that the lack of a pipeline to tidewater “leaves the country hostage to the whims of the White House” and Donald Trump, CBC reports.
“Now, more than ever, we need to come together and prove to ourselves and to the world that our country works,” Notley said. “”No other country on Earth would accept this, and Canada shouldn’t either, especially when we are doing it to ourselves. It is ridiculous.”
With the U.S. as the only market for the country’s oil and gas, she added, “money that should be going to Canadian schools and hospitals is going to American yachts and private jets. We’re exporting jobs, we’re exporting opportunity, and we are letting other countries control our economic destiny. We can’t stand for it.”
[While a pipeline takes years to build, Trump faces problems over a much shorter timeline, with multiple career-ending investigations picking up steam and U.S. mid-term elections now just 66 days away. — Ed.]
Other reactions to the ruling were almost as dramatic, yet considerably more measured, than Notley’s.
“I was really taken aback by the decision,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “I’m absolutely elated. I’m ecstatic…We denounced the so-called consultation process from the beginning as fundamentally flawed,” and “the courts upheld that.”
“We are winning,” Tsleil-Waututh Chief Rueben George told media in Vancouver Thursday morning. “The NEB was a flawed process from the beginning…and the courts recognized that today.”
While the appeal court envisioned a “quick and efficient” redo of the consultation process, Phillip stated that “in order for a new consultation to take place, they will have to go back to square one”.
“We went into consultations with the federal government with open hearts and minds, but sadly the process could best be described as window dressing,” said Chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. But “we had a strong sense that the decision had already been made before we even sat down. It was clear from the timing of the decision that they did not meaningfully consider much of the information we provided. The court has agreed with us on every issue.”
“This is a major victory for my community,” said Coldwater Indian Band Chief Lee Spahan. “Thankfully, the court has stepped in where Canada has failed to protect and respect our rights and our water. Our members will be hugely relieved.”
Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu acknowledge Indigenous communities’ leadership in the fight against the pipeline. “Once again, Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to the original people of this land,” she wrote. “As fires fierce enough to be seen from space rage across British Columbia, First Nations have won a resounding victory in the ongoing fight against fossil fuel infrastructure expansion in that province. The global movement to confront the climate crisis has reason to celebrate today.”
The decision “affirms the primacy of Indigenous rights and community consent,” Abreu added. “Canadians deserve a real and courageous conversation about the future of Canada’s oil and gas industry and its inevitable decline in the face of climate change.”
“This decision is a monumental win for the rights of Indigenous peoples and all of us who stand with them in firm opposition to a project that would massively increase climate pollution and put our coast at huge risk of oil spills,” added Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Chief Mike LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines First Nation near Kamloops said he welcomed the court’s finding that First Nations were not properly consulted, but still supported Trans Mountain going ahead under Indigenous control. CBC cited Whispering Pines as one of dozens of First Nations attempting to buy the project.
“Right from the beginning, we had wanted a piece of the pipeline, either in tax or equity,” LeBourdais said. “We are tired of watching corporations from Texas making money off our resources as they flow by.”
Ecojustice lawyer Dyna Tuytel, who represented the Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation in the case, called the decision a “really resounding victory for the environment, for First Nations, for communities” that reaffirmed the importance of environmental legislation. “The court is reminding Cabinet that it has to follow the law.”
Fossil lobbyists and their industry supporters were predictably less pleased.
“An outcome of this court case like this makes world investors continue to look at Canada as a place that can’t get its act together,” said Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers President Tim McMillan. “Canada could be the supplier of choice” to global markets like India and China, he claimed (notwithstanding the high cost and poor quality of tar sands/oil sands crude), “but we continue to not get the infrastructure in the ground that allows us to do that.”
The Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (EPAC) expressed “deep dismay at this devastating decision that further damages what’s left of Canada’s reputation as a country that can actually develop major projects in the resource sector.” It added that “to have a court panel review all that work and conclude years later that it wasn’t enough will give any project proponent a reason to doubt the wisdom of investing in Canada.”
Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty said the ruling “sends a profoundly negative message to investors both here at home and around the world about Canada’s regulatory system and our ability to get things done, even after the federal government has declared them to be in the national interest.”
“The message we just sent to investors is that it’s nearly impossible to get resource projects done in Canada, despite following a robust federal regulatory process,” said B.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Val Litwin.
“How much consultation is reasonable for the approval of resource projects?” Litwin asked. “This opens up the floodgates to have a never-ending consultation process where the goal posts are ever-changing.”
Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer called the ruling a “complete failure” for Trudeau and “devastating news for energy workers across Canada and for Canadian taxpayers.” While Finance Minister Bill Morneau blamed the National Energy Board’s epic consultation fail on the previous Stephen Harper government’s environmental assessment processes, Scheer stated that “the goal posts have been missed again by the Trudeau government.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said both governments were “directly responsible” for the court ruling, asserting that Trudeau’s Liberals could have updated the NEB process after they took office in 2015. “They knew this was a problem, they could have rectified the situation, and they didn’t,” he told media. “They didn’t listen to people’s concerns, they ignored First Nations, they didn’t consult in a manner that was respectful…they didn’t take into consideration massive environmental concerns.”
Singh added that the pipeline “was not in the country’s interest,” National Observer reports, “and said public dollars should be directed to renewable energy projects instead.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan, who pledged during last year’s provincial election campaign to fight the pipeline with “every legal tool” possible, “acknowledged the decision’s impacts on Albertans dependent on oil sector jobs and revenue,” the Star Vancouver reports.
“I understand this is going to be a devastating decision for many in Alberta—I respect that—but my responsibility is to the people of B.C.,” he said. “I don’t think it’s about winning or losing, it’s about the rule of law.”
Horgan added that, “today, the Tsleil-Waututh have helped all Canadians understand the importance of Indigenous rights, and how much we have to do…to rectify the impacts on First Nations people.”