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B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on June 29, 2016. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on June 29, 2016. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Christy Clark says Ottawa close to meeting B.C. pipeline conditions Add to ...

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says her government’s five conditions for approval of new heavy oil pipelines crossing the province are “very, very close” to being met on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion project. That includes negotiations on a benefits agreement that would establish an industry-sponsored B.C. environmental fund.

In the 4 1/2 years that Ms. Clark has talked about her conditions, she has not specified what British Columbia deems to be a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits – the fifth condition.

The Premier wants her province to have a share of the taxes and construction jobs, to be sure, but in addition, The Globe and Mail has learned, the B.C. government has quietly scoped out terms with Kinder Morgan Inc. for investment in a new fund – raised by tolls on the oil shipped by pipeline, or another mechanism – that would be earmarked for environmental protection and restoration.

Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan, told reporters Wednesday that he believes Trans Mountain is close to satisfying B.C.’s demands.

“I echo the words of Premier Christy Clark, we are making progress on all conditions – including Condition 5 – and I look forward to the resolution and satisfaction of that work in the days ahead. Progress is being made and we share her positive tone with respect to those discussions.”

Although it was the most contentious of the five conditions when she laid them out in the summer of 2012, the Premier now says a deal on B.C.’s share of the economic benefits will not take long to complete. She expects it will be settled well in advance of the May, 2017, election: “I think the five conditions could be met much sooner than that.”

The remaining four conditions – world-class spill response, adequate consultation with First Nations, successful completion of the environmental review process and oil-spill prevention practices on land – are all but resolved.

The B.C. Liberal government is poised to rule on a project review that is expected to lead to dozens of additional conditions to be added to the project’s environmental approval certificate.

The review was launched after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling ordered the province to render its own decision under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act, rather than to rely only on Ottawa’s review, to ensure obligations for First Nations consultation and accommodation have been met.

The province has now concluded its talks with 96 indigenous organizations, and a report released Tuesday recommends adding 35 more conditions to the 157 conditions that have already been attached to the project by the National Energy Board.

The provincial review will allow the Premier to say that the project has met her requirement for aboriginal consultation and accommodation, as well as fulfill the condition of a successful completion of the environmental review process.

On “world-leading” marine spill response, the Premier said her government is still working with the federal government to satisfy concerns – but her government is largely satisfied with the $1.5-billion ocean protection plan announced earlier this month by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The province also has promised world-leading practices for oil-spill prevention, response and recovery systems on land. It still needs to put the legal framework and funding in place, which is expected to be completed when the next B.C. budget is introduced in February.

But it was the “fair share” condition that, in the beginning, caused the most friction between British Columbia and Alberta. Informal talks with Kinder Morgan about the condition were put on hold in January, 2016, when the B.C. Supreme Court ordered the province to conduct its review.

Once B.C.’s statutory decision makers – Environment Minister Mary Polak and Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development – have approved the project, bargaining with Kinder Morgan can formally begin.

Clearly, the framework is already sketched out.

Since she announced her five conditions on the construction of oil pipelines, Ms. Clark has always left the door open to reject Kinder Morgan. But as she nears the election, it appears the Premier is ready to campaign in favour of the highly contentious project. Ms. Clark says B.C. has won significant improvements as a result of her “clear and consistent principles.”

The New Democrats will have broad support in B.C. for opposing the pipeline, but Ms. Clark is seeking to cast the Opposition as fickle and unable to secure a deal. “What British Columbians expect is not quick, easy, inconsistent answers and changes of position on this,” she said Wednesday. “What British Columbians expect is that their Premier is going to stand up and fight to protect our province.”

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