Kinder Morgan issued a harsh ultimatum, and its timing was awful.
But take some heart − its decision, announced Sunday, to put a deadline on legal wrangling so it can choose whether to proceed with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion does the country a big favour.
Episodes of fighting over this plan to ship oil sands-derived crude through British Columbia for export may finally come to an end, one way or another. With that will come a national realization that projects spanning provinces with different economic, environmental and political priorities can, or can’t, ever be considered.
In the name of sensitivity, Kinder Morgan should have postponed its decision to go public with its announcement that it is suspending nonessential spending on Trans Mountain. Even an important economic issue can be put on hold while the country mourns the loss of so many young men who were killed on a Saskatchewan highway.
So the timing, on the Sunday of the vigil for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, was a serious blunder, and Kinder Morgan deserves criticism for it.
It may obscure that fact that the move to give governments until May 31 to figure out whether construction is actually in the cards does make sense. It is interesting that the statement was made by Steve Kean, the chief executive of the U.S. parent company, and not Ian Anderson, the Kinder Morgan Canada president who has honed a thoughtful and patient image through the approval process.
Ottawa approved the $7.4-billion oil export project a year and a half ago, and there is still no consensus on its fate, given protests in the courts by British Columbia and in the streets by environmental activists and some First Nations folks.
Despite frequent assurances by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the project will see the light of day – he did that when he was in Fort McMurray on Friday and again on social media on Sunday − his government has not given a clear indication how it intends to make that happen as the B.C. government keeps pushing back.
After the company’s missive, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr issued a statement reminding Canadians that the government has jurisdiction over the development as defined by the Constitution, and will make sure it gets built.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, sounding ever the political gunslinger, said B.C. “cannot mess with Alberta.” Ms. Notley vowed to impose new economic pain on its western neighbour and even, oddly, invest directly in the pipeline to help shove it across the finish line if B.C. keeps up its opposition.
It’s no wonder. The oil business remains her province’s economic engine, and it has been sputtering for more than three years, sapping revenue and prompting high unemployment. A route to more lucrative export markets, the assertion goes, could help the oil-sands sector squeeze out of its economic jam and even invite new investment.
The project, which follows an existing right-of-way for the most part, would nearly triple the volume of crude that could flow to the West Coast at Burnaby, B.C. One cost for British Columbians would be a major increase in tanker traffic.
The man who’s become Ms. Notley’s foe on the issue, B.C. Premier John Horgan, a fellow New Democrat, said his government will not back down from its legal battles against the pipeline, despite its lack of success in its previous actions. He rejected the notion that the province is triggering a constitutional crisis. It is, though.
A war over the legal jurisdiction of various levels of government would surely bring about such a crisis, and Ottawa needs to offer specifics on how it might solve it, while allowing the project to proceed in a time frame that keeps it economically viable.
Without knowing what weapons the federal government has at its disposal, the region-against-region squabble can only continue.
Although it was ugly and insensitive to do it on Sunday, Kinder Morgan, in the name of protecting shareholders, just underlined that its patience isn’t eternal.