Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will interrupt a foreign trip on Sunday to meet with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan to discuss ways to end the inter-provincial battle over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The talks in Ottawa are scheduled to take place just one day before Ms. Notley plans to introduce legislation that would restrict the flow of oil, gasoline and diesel to B.C. in response to Mr. Horgan’s threats to block the federally approved, $7.4-billion pipeline project.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Thursday that Canadians should not expect an immediate breakthrough in the crisis, which has pitted the B.C. government, Vancouver-area municipalities and some First Nations communities against the federal and Alberta governments and the country’s business leaders.
“That meeting was set up in the hopes that we can continue the important dialogue between the premiers of Alberta and B.C. and the Prime Minister,” Mr. Morneau told reporters in Toronto.
“We know that talk doesn’t solve all problems. But we know that problems don’t get solved without talking. So that is the objective of that meeting, to make sure we all understand the importance of this project.”
The Prime Minister was scheduled to be on a 10-day foreign trip to Peru, France and the United Kingdom, but he will return to Canada after the Summit of the Americas in Peru to meet with the premiers, then leave for Paris and London.
Mr. Morneau has pledged Ottawa will meet the deadline to provide a rescue plan for the Trans Mountain project, including possible financial support, so that construction can proceed this summer. Earlier in the week, the Alberta Premier said her province was looking into buying the pipeline, which would transport oil sands bitumen through Vancouver, to ensure it gets built.
The B.C. government is preparing a court reference to clarify whether the province has the power to prevent increased shipments through its territory. That court action will take months and could be appealed. That delay could scuttle the project, which Alberta insists is vital to the health of its oil sector.
The federal government is also examining legal and regulatory options to end British Columbia’s delaying tactics, but it likely cannot prevent B.C.’s court reference.
The political and legal uncertainty has created a risky climate as Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. prepared to launch a construction program that would spend as much as $300-million a month.
Kinder Morgan announced this week that it would pull the plug on the project by June 1 unless governments can end the uncertainty and protect its shareholders from further political risk.
Mr. Horgan said he will attend the Sunday meeting because the Prime Minister has asked him to, but vowed not to back down on the court reference.
“I’m not prepared to do that. We are in a court of law, which is what civilized people do,” he said on Thursday. “I don’t feel there is any need for sabre-rattling, or provocation or threats. I will defend to the end the rights of British Columbia to defend our coast.”
Ms. Notley said she has no particular expectation for Sunday’s meeting, and will listen to what everyone has to say.
“But again, as far as negotiations and deals and that kind of thing, there’s only one outcome for Alberta – and that is that the pipeline gets built, that construction starts this year, and that we move forward as we should be,” Ms. Notley told reporters in Edmonton.
First Nations leaders who have challenged the federal approval in court say their interests are being ignored.
The Liberal government conducted extensive consultations with Indigenous communities leading up to the decision to approve the project in November, 2016. However, the leaders of First Nations who fear the pipeline expansion would endanger their coastlines were not invited to Sunday’s meeting.
“His alligator tears about reconciliation don’t fool us,” said Rueben George, who leads opposition for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, a community based near the pipeline’s terminus on Burrard Inlet. “He gets in front of the cameras and says nice things to First Nations, but on things like this that are important to First Nations, there’s no reconciliation there.”
At a news conference in Vancouver, business leaders and other supporters of Kinder Morgan’s project said they are worried about “confidence in Canada” declining.
The group warned Mr. Trudeau in an open letter sent on Thursday that the Trans Mountain impasse “threatens to provoke a crisis of confidence in Canada’s regulatory processes with far-reaching implications which go well beyond this project.”
Greg D’Avignon, chief executive officer of the Business Council of British Columbia, signed the letter along with dozens of leaders from a wide range of industries and communities.
With reports from Justine Hunter in Victoria and Kelly Cryderman in Calgary