Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned Albertans against expecting short-term legislative fixes to get the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion back on track, saying his government needs to fully address environmental and First Nations issues raised in a recent Court of Appeal decision.
Mr. Trudeau was in Edmonton on Wednesday, and met with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who has urged him to move quickly to restart construction after the appeal court quashed the federal approval last week. She wants legislation that would expedite Ottawa's response. Opposition Conservative MPs also called on the Liberal government to table a plan immediately to resume construction.
Mr. Trudeau said in an interview with a local radio station that any plan must address the court's concerns about the environment and Indigenous rights.
"I think when you look at the heart of the decision, the court actually gives a path forward," he said. "It says you need to do better and deeper consultation with Indigenous peoples if you want to get projects like this built, and you have to make sure you're taking into account all the environmental impacts and all the science on it."
The court said the project should be sent back to the National Energy Board (NEB) to give full consideration to the effects of increased marine traffic, specifically on the endangered killer whale population. It also said the government had failed to adequately discharge its duty to consult with First Nations whose territory would be affected.
In the radio interview, Mr. Trudeau said the government continues to examine options, including an appeal to the Supreme Court; a legislative approach that would shorten the review process; or simply complying with the ruling.
Legal experts have suggested the government could employ a mixture of all three options: using legislation to narrowly define the process of complying with the court decision, while appealing in order to establish clear guidelines from the country's highest court on Indigenous consultations for future projects.
Asked by the radio interviewer whether he would consider some sort of "big hammer" in the form of legislation that would override the court ruling, the Prime Minister said such an approach would likely land the government back in court.
"Using a legislative trick might be satisfying in the short term, but it would set up fights, and uncertainty for investors over the coming years on any other project, because you can't have a government keep invoking those sorts of things on every given project," Mr. Trudeau said. "People want to know that we're doing things the right way for the long term, that jobs that get started will continue and won't get stopped by the courts."
Before the meeting with the Prime Minister, Ms. Notley said the process to restart the project must happen quickly.
“We have people who are wondering whether they should be going to work in the next week or two,” she said. “We have investors in the energy industry, as well as the economy overall, who are looking at whether Canada can make things work.”
Ms. Notley said she agrees Indigenous people should be consulted properly, but added that Ottawa must also address the court's concerns about the energy board.
Afterwards, Ms. Notley's spokeswoman, Cheryl Oates, said the Prime Minister and the Premier discussed options for addressing the court ruling that would stand up to further challenges.
Suncor Energy Inc. – one of country's largest oil producers – indicated on Wednesday it will not expand oil production without clear progress on more pipeline capacity. In addition to the Trans Mountain project, Enbridge Inc. is expanding its main export line into the U.S. Midwest, while TransCanada Corp. is working on a final investment decision on its Keystone XL line, which still faces legal hurdles.
The court decision on Trans Mountain added to troubling pipeline delays, Suncor chief executive Steve Williams told an investors conference in New York.
“There is clearly a question of confidence in Canada,” he said.
However, some analysts suggest Ottawa should be able to address the court's requirements quickly.
"Indeed, the court went out of its way to spell out just how limited the required steps are," Martha Hall Findlay, president of the Canada West Foundation, wrote in a briefing note. "There will be some further delay, but the court most certainly did not 'stop' the project."
With reports from The Canadian Press and Reuters