Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government has the authority to ensure the Trans Mountain pipeline is built and is taking the financial and legislative actions needed to make it happen.
“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 after meeting with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan in Ottawa Sunday.
Trudeau said the financial discussions with Kinder Morgan will not be in public but that “construction will go ahead.”
In laying out his plan, Trudeau stopped short of saying his government was taking a financial stake in the pipeline but said that when he has more details of the financial arrangement he would release them to Canadians.
“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,” he added.
Alberta Premier Notley said earlier that her province was also involved in the financial discussions that have already begun with Kinder Morgan.
“Today in the meeting, one of the things that we discussed was that the federal government along with the government of Alberta has 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, that the pipeline will be built. And that is good because the project is in the national interest.”
Horgan described the meeting as cordial and one in which he did not feel cornered or threatened, despite failing to come to a form of consensus with Notley and Trudeau.
“Despite all of 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.
Horgan said he would continue to push for the “gaps” in the federal government’s oceans’ protection plan to be plugged.
“At the end of the day we agreed that there may well be an opportunity for us to have officials address some of the gaps that we perceive to be in the oceans protection plan,” he said.
“We have asked officials, our officials in British Columbia, to work with the federal government to ensure that, for example, when they’re applying more resources to the oceans protection plan that they focus on the gaps that we see up the coast.”
Boosting oceans protection
Trudeau said that his government had stumped up $1.5 billion to increase “responsiveness and resilience” along the West Coast but suggested Horgan has been less than cooperative in the past on the file.
“Unfortunately over the course of almost a year they have not specifically put forward proposals on how they would like to see us improve the oceans protection plan,” Trudeau said, before adding that, “it’s something we very much are open to doing.”
Improving that plan is also something Notley supports, explaining that during Sundays’ meeting the three parties had a “robust” discussion about what B.C. was looking for in terms of improvements.
“All Canadians want to do everything that can be done to have best practices in place to actually bring about an improvement in marine safety along the West Coast,” she said.
At several points during his news conference Trudeau aimed similar verbal jabs at B.C., suggesting the province’s steadfast opposition to a project the prime minister had declared is in the national interest, has not been helpful.
“The B.C. government’s efforts to block this project have obviously inflamed passions and political rhetoric in both provinces and across the country, so I want to encourage leaders of all stripes to keep one thing in mind as we go forward: B.C.ers and Albertans are not opponents, they are neighbours, they are fellow countrymen and women who want the best for themselves and for each other.”
Horgan maintained that he would continue to pursue his province’s right to block the pipeline through the courts, saying he would abide by whatever decision was handed down.
“I absolutely believe in the rule of law. All Canadians do. And it’s my view that should the courts render a decision that is counter to our position then that is the way it should be.”
Meeting the May 31 deadline
Notley said her government would pursue its own legal recourse to the dispute, promising legislation to protect her province’s resource sector.
“What we look forward to doing this week is introducing into our legislature, legislation that will give Alberta the authority to strategically deploy the export of its resources in a way that gets the best return for Albertans and maximizes the prices that we can receive.”
Meanwhile Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer weighed in on the issue, saying Trudeau’s record proves Canadians can’t trust him to get major resource projects completed.
“His damaging policies from a national carbon tax scheme … to the convoluted extra red-tape burden of Bill C-69 have only led to more uncertainty and instability in Canada’s resource sector,” Scheer said.
“These new hurdles and extra costs have given investors a very clear signal: Justin Trudeau does not want their business in Canada.”
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also weighed in Sunday afternoon, praising the meeting but pointing out the lack of Indigenous voices.
Tensions over the Trans Mountain expansion have been building since Kinder Morgan suspended all non-essential spending on the project last week. The company has given the federal government until May 31 to deliver concrete assurances that the expanded line will get built.
On Sunday Notley said she is confident that construction timeline can be met.
“I am quite confident that the nature of the conversation that we are having at this point will get the job done in terms of eliminating the uncertainty that’s caused the May 31 deadline and I’m confident that it will be built.”
Kinder Morgan would not provide any clues as to whether it is pleased or upset about the outcome of the meeting.
“Our objectives are to obtain certainty with respect to the ability to construct through B.C. and for the protection of our shareholders in order to build the Trans Mountain Expansion Project,” the company said in a statement.
“As we said last week, we do not intend to issue updates or further disclosures on the status of consultations until we’ve reached a sufficiently definitive agreement on or before May 31 that satisfies our objectives.”
A polarized debate
Trudeau was not initially scheduled to be in Ottawa this weekend. He had planned to travel from Lima, Peru, where he was attending the Summit of the Americas to Paris before moving on to London, where he is scheduled to have an audience with the Queen.
Those plans changed Thursday, less than an hour before Trudeau’s plane was scheduled to take off from Ottawa, when Trudeau arranged a face-to-face meeting with the two premiers.
“It became very clear that the level of polarization around this debate required significant measures,” Trudeau said Saturday evening during his closing news conference in Lima.
“I wanted to be able to sit down with the premier of British Columbia, the premier of Alberta together, and discuss issues of the national interest and demonstrate the federal government’s’ commitment to getting this project built.”