Managing the heated debate over the Energy East pipeline is shaping up to be one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most pressing challenges as MPs return to Ottawa Monday.
The Official Opposition Conservatives plan to push the issue in the House of Commons this week as an example of a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project that could create jobs and stimulate the economy all through private investment.
The NDP meanwhile is accusing the Liberals of backing away from promises to bring in tougher environmental rules regarding pipeline approvals.
The plan to deliver Alberta’s landlocked bitumen to Atlantic tidewater is shaping up to be a complex political challenge for Mr. Trudeau. The project is strongly supported by Alberta’s NDP government and the Liberal government in New Brunswick, where the bitumen would be refined and exported.
But Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre – a former federal Liberal cabinet minister – has emerged as a strong municipal critic, stirring opposition in the Prime Minister’s backyard.
Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said Sunday that the government will rely on the ongoing independent review process of the National Energy Board.
“Our commitment was not to scrap the process or to redo it completely,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
“Our commitment was to ensure that it is robust and significant and if we have suggestions of how to improve it, the ministers of environment and natural resources will probably be making those announcements in the coming weeks.”
Speaking in Davos late last week, Mr. Trudeau said he sides with premiers such as Alberta’s Rachel Notley and Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, who support Energy East.
“I am solidly in one camp on this one,” he said. “I’m feeling very good about our capacity to get our resources to market in a responsible and environmentally sustainable way.”
In addition to pipeline politics, the government will start introducing new legislation either late this week or early next week to implement promises from the Liberal election platform. Decisions are also expected in the coming weeks related to the future of Canada’s military contribution in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau is preparing a federal budget that will likely be released in March. That will provide new information on the government’s infrastructure spending plans, including how large a deficit the Liberals are willing to run in order to deliver on campaign promises, at a time of weaker-than-expected economic growth.
Discussions between parties this week will determine whether there will be enough time to get the finance committee started quickly enough to hold limited prebudget hearings.
Health-care reform, doctor-assisted death and climate change are also expected to be topics of debate as the House of Commons returns.
The Senate, meanwhile, is awaiting the appointment of a new government leader.
A special committee of senators is expected to work on ways to improve the chamber, which has been hit hard by a series of controversies over expenses.
But pushing the pipeline issue is a clear priority of the Conservatives.
“I’ll be looking for the Prime Minister to show some leadership on this and say that this is an important national project,” Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer said.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said his party is wondering why the Liberals are now supporting a pipeline review process that they had previously criticized.
“They backtracked off that and I’m starting to hear from people who voted Liberal saying, ‘I didn’t vote for that,’” he said.Report Typo/Error