B.C. Premier John Horgan will address the federal Liberal cabinet during a retreat in Nanaimo, and his talking points will include NAFTA negotiations and ocean protection. But the Premier’s office won’t say whether Mr. Horgan plans to take his province’s case against the Trans Mountain pipeline directly to ministers.
The subject is the most contentious area of disagreement between Victoria and Ottawa and poses a thorny problem for Liberals in British Columbia. While the party won a record number of seats in B.C. in 2015 – 17 – the federal Liberals' support for the pipeline pits it against the B.C. government’s stated opposition to it.
Mr. Horgan’s deputy communications director Jen Holmwood confirmed the Premier’s Wednesday presentation, but declined to elaborate on what message Mr. Horgan, a New Democrat, will deliver.
Ms. Holmwood said in a statement that the federal government is well aware of B.C.’s position and the Premier has spoken “many times” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the issue.
“It’s possible it could come up in conversation,” she wrote.
Including ocean protection in Mr. Horgan’s talking points is significant: The NDP government has based its argument against the pipeline on concerns over inadequate protection against a catastrophic oil spill. The federal government has pledged a beefed up Oceans Protection Plan, but earlier this year, B.C.'s Environment Minister declined to say if there was anything the federal government could do to assuage the NDP’s concerns.
There’s no mention of Trans Mountain in a recent statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the cabinet retreat. It listed an agenda that includes diversifying international trade, eliminating trade barriers and maintaining the integrity and security of Canada’s borders.
Mr. Horgan’s government has joined a court challenge to the pipeline and taken a public stand against it, despite the previous BC Liberal government’s decision to approve the project.
Whether or not the expansion is built, Mr. Horgan has said his government will seek authority to stop diluted bitumen from being shipped across the province by rail. To that end, the province has also filed a court reference at the B.C. Supreme Court of Appeal asking for clarification over whether B.C. can regulate the transport of bitumen through the province.
But the federal government has promised legislation to reassert its authority over interprovincial pipelines.
Mr. Horgan is scheduled to meet with Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday and will make his presentation to cabinet on Wednesday.
The retreat arrives a week after several pipeline protesters plead guilty and were jailed on contempt charges for obstructing workers from dismantling a protest camp outside Kinder Morgan’s facility. Kinder Morgan shareholders vote next week on whether to sell the pipeline to the federal government.
Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, says their polling shows a near-even split among voters asked whether they support Mr. Trudeau’s support for the expansion of the pipeline.
Mr. Trudeau has previously faced public anger in Nanaimo over Trans Mountain.
In February, the Prime Minister faced a crowd of 1,700 at a town hall in Nanaimo, many outraged over federal Trans Mountain policy. The Prime Minister struggled to be heard. At one point, he directed police to remove hecklers.
“I do give the Prime Minister credit. He’s not afraid to face tough audiences,” said Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay, adding he expects the cabinet will face pointed comments on the pipeline if they venture out into the community.
Mr. McKay said the RCMP have told him they will be deploying “adequate” resources for the protest he expects during the retreat, suggesting his city was braced for protesters from outside its borders.
“We’re a short ferry ride from Vancouver,” Mr. McKay said on Monday.