Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the debate over the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is much larger than the interprovincial dispute between Alberta and British Columbia – it’s about defending federal jurisdiction.
“This isn’t just about one province disagreeing with another province. It’s a question of a province actually challenging the federal government’s right and responsibility to get things done that are in the national interest,” Mr. Trudeau said in Calgary on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a senior federal source said Finance Minister Bill Morneau is set to provide a major update Wednesday regarding the state of talks with pipeline owner Kinder Morgan. The source, not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, declined to give further details.
There is just more than two weeks remaining before the expiry of the May 31 deadline set by the company. The U.S. parent company said in April it might cancel the $7.4-billion expansion project outright if it doesn’t receive a guarantee that British Columbia will not be able to block or delay construction, and assurances that its shareholders will not be hurt financially if there are further disruptions. The company also halted all “non-essential” spending on the federally approved project, which the Liberal government insists is in the national interest.
Federal Finance officials along with representatives of the Alberta government are still in negotiations with Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. – with both levels of government saying they are willing to come to some kind of financial arrangement with the company to make sure the project is back on track by this summer. Last week, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said “Ottawa is in very serious and determined discussions with Alberta, and with Kinder Morgan.”
Speaking to reporters in Calgary on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau said talks are continuing but his government won’t negotiate in public.
The Prime Minister was greeted by a small group of Calgary protesters who believe his government hasn’t done enough to get the pipeline project going. But Mr. Trudeau said the oil industry “boosterism” of the past Conservative government didn’t get pipelines to new markets built. He said his governments multipronged approach to the environment and the economy – with his government’s Oceans Protection Plan to improve marine safety, and a countrywide price on carbon – go hand in hand with the building of the pipeline expansion.
“There are premiers to the east of us, immediately, who don’t like the price on carbon. And there are premiers to the west of us that aren’t crazy about the pipeline. But I say to all of them – this goes together,” he said, shortly after making a $1.53-billion public transit announcement with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
The pipeline project would allow for a significant increase in the volumes of diluted bitumen shipped from Alberta to the West Coast, and faces fierce environmental objections from B.C. residents and First Nations who fear tanker spills in coastal waters. But Mr. Trudeau reiterated the project is necessary to break Canada’s near-total reliance on U.S. markets for oil exports.
“Staying prisoner to a single market in the United States isn’t necessarily smart for our resource industry,” he said, quoting Scotiabank economists who say the Canadian economy is losing more than $15-billion a year because of limited capacity to ship oil and the massive discount on Canadian oil due to the glut.
The Prime Minister also declined to directly answer a reporter’s question as to whether he is meeting with either Steve Kean, the chief executive officer of Kinder Morgan Inc., or Ian Anderson, the CEO of the Canadian subsidiary, which is building the pipeline expansion. The annual general meeting of Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. will be held in the city on Wednesday morning.
In the days ahead, Alberta is also expected to pass legislation that will give it new powers to restrict and even cut off fossil-fuel shipments outside the province, a trade-war measure designed to raise the spectre of increased fuel costs in B.C., where prices are already higher.