Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has extended an olive branch to the B.C. government, offering to work with the province to address safety concerns over the shipment of diluted bitumen through an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline.
Her offer comes as the Liberal government faces criticism from Conservative MPs over a federal summer-job grant provided to an environmental group to hire a youth to work on its campaign to stop the Kinder Morgan project, which would triple the capacity of the pipeline that runs from Alberta to Vancouver Harbour.
In the Commons on Wednesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau why the Liberals are funding a job at Vancouver-based Dogwood Initiative that would pay a youth to work in opposition to the federally approved project.
“Does he not realize that he is funding the very groups that are protesting against the project that is in the national interest?” the Conservative leader said during Question Period.
Mr. Trudeau said the government supports freedom of speech and noted Dogwood had received funding under the previous Conservative government.
While the Liberals faced criticism from Conservatives for undermining the project, New Democratic Party MPs seized on reports that the Liberal government put pressure on bureaucrats to speed up consultations with First Nations so it could approve the project before a December, 2016, first ministers’ meeting.
In her letter to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, Ms. McKenna defended Ottawa’s approach on the Trans Mountain expansion, saying the federal government is ensuring the project will be “safe and environmentally responsible, and can be built and operated to the highest standards.”
She added that the federal government would be willing to establish a joint scientific expert advisory panel to “take stock of the fate, behavior and effects of various oil products in different spill conditions” in order to bolster preparedness for any potential accident.
Ms. McKenna also offered to establish a partnership among federal and provincial governments and Indigenous communities to establish a “seamless land-to-sea system to protect British Columbia from spill risks.”
The B.C. government is asking the federal Court of Appeal to rule on the province’s jurisdiction to regulate the flow of diluted bitumen through the province, arguing that scientists are still uncertain how the oil-sands crude would act in spill conditions and whether it could be cleaned up.
The federal government also released a reply Thursday to British Columbia’s policy statement in which the province laid out its case for regulating diluted bitumen.
In the paper, Ottawa argued it has taken major steps to safeguard Canada’s coasts and will continue to work on its own and with provincial and Indigenous partners to enhance those measures. However, it added the federal government has clear jurisdiction over interprovincial pipelines as well as rail and marine transportation.
“The current railway, marine, and pipeline regimes are robust and continue to be advanced and improved and include comprehensive liability and compensation systems to minimize impacts on Canadians, ensure they are protected from costs and damages, and that the environment is protected,” the federal paper said.