Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government needs to do just "a little more work" to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion back on track, as opposition MPs demanded a clear and urgent plan.
At an appearance on Tuesday in Surrey, B.C., the Prime Minister refused to spell out how the government will respond to the Federal Court of Appeal decision released last Thursday. It quashed federal approval for the pipeline expansion that would triple the amount of Western Canadian crude reaching Vancouver's harbour.
"Obviously, we are looking carefully at the court ruling to understand what the path forward is," Mr. Trudeau said. He added that the government is determined to proceed with the project but only while fulfilling its duty to consult with First Nations, and protect the environment.
"The court rulings indicated we still have a little more work to do in those particular areas and that's exactly what we're looking at – what we need to do in order to get this project done in the right way."
The Court of Appeal ruled the National Energy Board (NEB) failed to properly assess the risks posed by the increase in tanker traffic resulting from the pipeline expansion, and that the federal government did not discharge its duty to consult with First Nations whose traditional territory would be affected.
The Appeal Court ruling said the matter should be sent back to the NEB to reconsider the issue of marine traffic, especially its impact on the endangered southern resident killer whale population. As well, the court said the government needed to re-engage with First Nations for further consultation and accommodation on specific concerns raised by several communities.
The court said the government could set a time limit on the NEB review and that the consultations could be “brief and efficient.”
However, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called for an emergency session of the House of Commons and for legislation that would declare the NEB has no jurisdiction over marine tanker traffic. The federal government could also appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, but that route would be a lengthy one.
Conservative and New Democratic Party MPs forced an emergency sitting of the House of Commons committee on natural resources to demand answers from the Liberals on next steps for the pipeline project. However, a motion to study the issue and have cabinet members appear before the committee was voted down by the Liberal majority.
“The ongoing delays are no longer acceptable and the Liberals must provide a clear road map for the Trans Mountain expansion to proceed,” Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs told the committee.
“I think it is galling that the Liberals have not yet announced a plan to move forward,” she said. Ms. Stubbs claimed the project’s halt is costing 8,000 direct jobs, but she gave no indication where the number came from.
Ottawa now owns the Trans Mountain pipeline after closing its $4.5-billion acquisition from Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre noted the government had agreed to purchase the pipeline and finance the expansion in order to ensure construction would begin this summer. Instead, the project remained stalled and will now take many months – if not years – to resume, he said.
“We now have no idea when shovels will be in the ground,” Mr. Poilievre said.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen asked whether the government intended to appeal the decision and urged it not to, given that the court gave clear guidance on what constitutes proper consultation with First Nations. Mr. Cullen said both the previous Conservative government and the current Liberals gave short shrift to the environmental review and consultation in order to ram through a controversial project.
“Taking shortcuts … doesn’t work in the courts and it doesn’t work for our economy, which everybody is talking about here,” Mr. Cullen told the committee hearing.
In a release late on Tuesday, Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. said it would distribute the proceeds of the sale of the Trans Mountain pipeline to its shareholders, subject to shareholder approval. Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. – which owns 70 per cent of the voting interests in the Canadian subsidiary – said it would receive US$2-billion from the sale that it would use to reduce debt.