Will a new BC government stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion from proceeding? Likely not.

Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 in Brian's Blog, Politics | 0 comments

A widely circulated story in The Hill Times, an Ottawa political newsweekly, asserts that Prime Minister Trudeau will now have difficulty getting a pipeline built in British Columbia because the province’s incoming NDP premier and his Green Party sidekick are on record as opposing the project.

The story concedes that the federal government has already approved the $7.4 billion Kinder Morgan expansion project and that Ottawa has the final say in the matter. But it suggests – without offering much in the way of hard evidence – that the project now faces obstacles it didn’t face before.

The only source for this claim is BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. He says the pipeline twinning won’t proceed partly because the outgoing Liberal government won’t be around to defend itself in court when the City of Vancouver and the Squamish Nation challenge the government’s granting of an environmental certificate for the project.

It’s an interesting argument but hardly convincing. Provinces don’t have the power to negate projects approved by Ottawa. If they did, interprovincial highways and railways would never get built. A provincial environmental certificate may lend an element of social licence to a federal initiative but ultimately it cannot make or break it. Besides, the National Energy Board has already conducted its own environmental assessment of the project and given it the green light, subject to numerous conditions.

Mr Weaver insists the pipeline expansion should be blocked because British Columbians don’t want it. But this is not entirely true, either. Granted, a random sampling of about 1,000 BC voters showed that most believed the project would have a negative environmental impact. But most also believed it would have a positive economic impact.

So where does this leave the incoming premier, John Horgan? What’s he saying about the future of the Kinder Morgan project?

In fact, he isn’t saying anything. During the election campaign, his party said it would use “every tool in our toolbox to stop the project from going ahead.” But he has kept mum about the pipeline ever since Christy Clark’s provincial Liberals lost their majority in the legislature and the NDP cobbled together a minority government with the three-seat support of the Greens.

His silence suggests to me that Mr Horgan is weighing his political options. He doesn’t want to alienate Mr Weaver, on whom he’s relying to stay in power. He doesn’t want to make an enemy of Mr Trudeau while the softwood lumber dispute with the US is ongoing. He doesn’t want to drive a wedge between his government and the pipeline supporting Rachel Notley government in Alberta because, as columnist Gary Mason pointed out in The Globe and Mail, the two governments have far more to gain by working in each other’s best interests than trying to undermine each other. And he certainly doesn’t want to piss off the BC unions, who welcome the prospect of more pipeline construction jobs for the province.

Ms Notley acknowledges that she and Mr Horgan don’t see eye to eye on the Kinder Morgan issue. But she adds that she and her government intend to do everything they can to “find a path to a win-win.”

So I don’t buy the contention of the Hill Times writer, Derek Adma, that Mr Trudeau now faces a new uphill struggle in his quest to have the pipeline built.

Yes, there will be legal challenges in the fall that will delay the process. But these were going to happen anyhow, regardless of who won the BC election.

And yes, Mr Weaver – as a condition of his continuing support – will undoubtedly expect Mr Horgan to take a stronger stand against the pipeline expansion if the opponents fail to convince the judiciary that the project should be blocked.

But that’s all in the future, likely a few years away and – as columnist Mason observes – who knows what the political situation in BC might be at that point? In the meantime, it’s all systems go for Kinder Morgan as it prepares for construction in the fall.

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Copyright 2017 Brian Brennan - Writer

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