The Liberal government faces a pre-election summer of protests in British Columbia if it re-approves the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion as expected on Tuesday and sends construction crews back to work.
Federally owned Trans Mountain Corp. stopped project-related construction last summer after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed its permit and ordered the government to reconsider environmental effects of the increased tanker traffic and revisit its consultations with Indigenous communities that would be affected by the expansion. After a 10-month process, the Liberal cabinet is expected at its weekly meeting on Tuesday to re-approve the project, which Alberta says is critical to its economic lifeblood, but opponents in B.C. warn poses unwarranted risks.
Echoing demands from the Alberta government, the oil industry’s top lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), on Monday urged cabinet to approve the project with no additional conditions that would further delay the work.
“The time to build Trans Mountain is now,” CAPP president Tim McMillan said in a statement. “If a decision is made to further delay [the expansion project], it will signal that Canada is closed for business.”
However, regulatory and commercial steps must be completed before construction crews can begin installing new pipe, such as ensuring it has met all the National Energy Board’s preconstruction conditions, and re-engaging contractors, Trans Mountain spokeswoman Ali Hounsell said on Tuesday. That work will begin immediately, assuming the federal government does not impose new delays.
“We continued work in areas not impacted by the ruling, such as planning and detailed engineering and design,” Ms. Hounsell said. “As such, we have continued to work with our contractors to ensure planning and design is advancing in a way that would allow us to get back to work as soon as possible.”
While it’s not clear what kind of targets will be available for protesters, the project’s opponents in British Columbia are gearing up to apply maximum political pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals are trailing the Conservatives in national opinion polls and face a tough fight to get re-elected in October.
“If they are smart, they will not build this summer given the upcoming election,” Tzeporah Berman, international program director of the environmental group Stand.earth, said on Monday. “We certainly don’t want to be forced into a position of conflict, but if they attempt to blast into Burnaby Mountain or under the Fraser River, we will stand with Indigenous leaders and concerned citizens.”
Several First Nations are planning a news conference for Tuesday morning to spell out plans to continue their opposition to the project, which will likely include efforts to halt construction work on the ground and further court challenges. Some Indigenous leaders have questioned the legitimacy of federal consultations with First Nations along the route. The federal government owns the pipeline and has indicated it wants the project to proceed, they said, and therefore it has not consulted in good faith.
“We have always said we will do what it takes to not let this pipeline go through,” Rueben George, a community organizer with the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, said in an interview. Mr. George said his mother and his son led previous protests against Trans Mountain construction, and are prepared to do so again this summer.
Alberta politicians hope the Liberal government will approve the pipeline and order Trans Mountain to restart work quickly. Premier Jason Kenney’s government embarked on a $2.75-million advertising campaign to support an immediate resumption, while former Alberta premier Rachel Notley predicted a victory for her long-running advocacy for the pipeline.
International Trade Minister Jim Carr said the cabinet decision is "very significant.
“It’s all about moving our resources to export markets, but doing it in a responsible and sustainable way in consultation with Indigenous communities and with an eye on environmental stewardship, and those are the pillars we have been talking about and that we will honour and continue to honour,” he said.
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