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British Columbia Western Canada: Opponents of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion gearing up for next week’s decision

Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.

Next week will be a pivotal moment for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, when the federal cabinet announces whether it will re-approve the project. The government is widely expected to do just that – after all, it spent $4.5-billion to buy the pipeline last year – but that will by no means be the end of the debate.

The initial regulatory process, which went on for four years before the expansion was approved in 2016, was marred by protests and, crucially, legal challenges that successfully derailed the project last year. A Federal Court of Appeal ruling forced the federal government to launch a fresh set of consultations with First Nations and re-examine the potential impact on southern resident killer whales. And now, on Tuesday, cabinet appears set to try again by approving the expansion a second time.

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But opponents of the project are already gearing up to pick up the fight where they left off. First Nations in B.C. that opposed the project and environmentalists are expected to file new legal challenges almost immediately. And anti-pipeline groups, such as Greenpeace, are predicting blockades and protests in which activists will be “willing to put their bodies on the line.”

On the legal front, many of the arguments are expected to be the same: namely that Ottawa still has not adequately consulted Indigenous communities affected by the project and taken steps to address their concerns. Legal experts have said that doesn’t mean yielding to a veto, but rather making substantive changes to mitigate the impact on those communities. And Ottawa will need to show – by making changes to the project or imposing new conditions – that it has taken those concerns to heart.

In the meantime, construction could resume soon unless and until a court intervenes. Trans Mountain, now a Crown corporation, says it still needs to sort out permitting and other logistical issues first, though supporters have predicted there could be shovels in the ground by the fall.

There’s a lot to sort through, so check out our primer on the pipeline, the cabinet decision, and what happens next. And watch for Wednesday’s Western newsletter, in which we’ll break down what cabinet decided and what it means for the future of the project.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West

Investment condos: New data from the Canadian Housing Statistics Program shows investors own nearly half of Vancouver city condos. Kerry Gold took a look at the report this week and found that the new data also shows 36 per cent of condo apartments across the Lower Mainland were owned by people who don’t live in their properties.

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The data was compiled by the program that looked at residential property owners in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia for 2018. The report includes a new indicator – “not owner occupied” – to show when none of the owners on title declare the property is their usual residence. The property may be rented out, used as a secondary property or left empty.

Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, crunched the numbers. He said the results show “that you can have a housing system that produces units, but those units aren’t there to house those that are there to build the economy.”

Carbon tax: The federal government is vowing to freeze its carbon tax at $50 a tonne after 2022, as it moves to impose the federal levy starting in January on Alberta consumers following Premier Jason Kenney’s decision to kill the provincial one.

Mr. Kenney denounced the federal plan, vowing to launch a court challenge immediately: “We will stand up to this federal effort to punish Albertans for heating their homes & driving to work,” he said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the federal minister told reporters Thursday the Liberal government would not increase either carbon tax above $50 a tonne – roughly 11.5 cents a litre on gasoline – after 2022 if re-elected next fall. The pledge comes after the Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a report concluding the tax would have to rise to $102 a tonne by 2030 to meet the country’s international climate-change commitment, if governments in Canada rely on carbon pricing alone.

Birth tourism: Richmond Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido is calling on his own party to address the practice of non-resident mothers coming to Canada to give birth, which he called an “awful practice” that must be stopped. Recent data found babies born to non-resident mothers accounted for only 2 per cent of the almost 43,000 births in 2017. But Richmond Hospital is where about half of them take place. Since 2014, newborns of non-resident parents accounted for between 15 and 22 per cent of all babies born there.

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It is legal for non-residents to give birth in Canada, which then grants the baby citizenship. But so-called birth tourism has raised the ire of some in Richmond. Mr. Peschisolido sponsored a petition by a Richmond resident opposing the births and he has discussed the matter with Canada’s immigration minister. “The federal government has to implement concrete measures to disrupt and end birth tourism,” he said.

The minister’s office did not comment on his demands. Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland described the controversy as a tempest in a tea pot. He notes the numbers involved are relatively low and any abuse or exploitation of the system could be addressed in ways other than overhauling Canada’s citizenship laws.

Money laundering: Provincial and territorial finance ministers met with their federal counterpart in Vancouver this week and discussed money laundering. Both Ontario and British Columbia want more money to battle the problem, with Ontario calling for an anti-money-laundering task force for that province. Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said in a letter sent this week to federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau that Ontario is concerned about millions in funding for anti-money-laundering initiatives going predominantly to British Columbia.

At the meeting, Mr. Morneau announced $10-million in new RCMP funding to give the Mounties better technology for their money-laundering investigations, but B.C. says it needs more actual boots on the ground from the federal agency to crack down on this sophisticated crime. “The imminent threat that we’re facing is the lack of policing,” B.C. Attorney-General David Eby told The Globe and Mail after the news conference.

Oil spill: Husky Energy has been fined $3.8-million for a pipeline leak that spilled oil into a major river and tainted the drinking water supply for thousands of people in Saskatchewan.

The spill into the North Saskatchewan River in July, 2016, forced the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to shut off their water intakes for almost two months. Court heard two alarms went off about the leak, but they weren’t recorded or reported to senior staff.

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“There has never been an environmental incident as significant as this in the province,” Saskatchewan prosecutor Matthew Miazga told court. Husky had already apologized for the spill and has made changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again, but the chief of the Little Pine First Nation said the spill continues to have an impact on his community.

Opinion

Editorial board on C-69: “Bill C-69 isn’t the Alberta Oil Act. It attempts to deal with today’s realities. Indigenous relations and environmental questions sunk Trans Mountain in court last year – a loss that came after approval from the review process Mr. Harper enacted.”

Chief Roy Fox on Indigenous consultation: “We will not allow the federal government to decide who are “good” First Nations – who fit the stereotype of the noble, conservationist Native – and those who are undeserving of the government’s consideration because they are determined to exercise their self-determination by developing their resources for their people’s benefit.”

Ethan Lou on Vancouver considering banning bitcoin ATMs: “Make no mistake, the issue of bitcoin ATMs is one of social class. Sex workers use cryptocurrency to buy ads or run websites because credit-card issuers often refuse to work with the platforms and hosting services that cater to their industry. Using cryptocurrency also grants a certain anonymity, which is of particular importance; many sex workers deliberately avoid using online exchange platforms, which have lower fees, but often require bank accounts, credit cards, a fixed address or other identification.”

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