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British Columbia Western Canada: Ottawa reapproves Trans Mountain pipeline expansion as opponents prepare for renewed battle

Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.

The Trans Mountain expansion project has been given a second life by the federal government, which is betting that it has done enough to consult with Indigenous communities and re-examine the potential impact on marine life to withstand another round of legal challenges.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several cabinet ministers announced their decision yesterday to issue a second approval for the $7.4-billion project, which would expand the Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta’s oil sands and the West Coast. The Federal Court of Appeal had overturned an earlier approval last year, ordering the government to hold new consultations with First Nations while the National Energy Board studied the potential impact on southern resident killer whales.

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A long list of opponents, including a number of First Nations, environmentalists, and the B.C. government, lined up to condemn the decision. They argued the federal government still has not done enough to listen to the concerns of Indigenous people or mitigate the harms to the environment and the climate. Environmentalists and B.C. First Nations that oppose the project are preparing to file new lawsuits, stage protests and blockades, and campaign against the Liberals in the upcoming federal election.

At the same time, there are several First Nations-led proposals to buy into the pipeline. Their leaders welcomed the decision and in particular Mr. Trudeau’s commitment to ensure Indigenous people are given an opportunity to buy into it. The Prime Minister said that could include an ownership stake of up to 100 per cent, revenue sharing, or something else. Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, who is co-chair of Iron Coalition said this weeks’ approval is a “game changer.”

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney said the cabinet decision was no cause for celebration. Mr. Kenney, a frequent critic of Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government, said the process has taken far too long and he won’t be satisfied until the expanded pipeline is actually built. The Opposition New Democrats, who were in office when the pipeline was initially approved, quickly attempted to take credit for this week’s decision.

And his counterpart in B.C., Premier John Horgan, vowed to continue his fight against the project. On that front, Mr. Horgan has been running out of options. The province’s arguments at the Federal Court of Appeal were rejected and a B.C. court recently concluded that proposed legislation that would allow the province to regulate oil shipments would be unconstitutional. Mr. Horgan’s government plans to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada while supporting any other legal challenges that are filed.

Trans Mountain will provide an update later today about when construction will resume, though Mr. Trudeau said he expects that to happen this construction season. And Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who will eventually be shopping the pipeline around to potential buyers, is in Calgary this morning for a speech to Economic Club of Canada.

John Ibbitson says Trans Mountain is among several issues that could be key to the Liberals’ fate in the fall election. “First question: Will Mr. Trudeau’s actions convince voters that this government can protect both the environment and the economy, or will it convince them the Liberals can do neither?”

And Jeffery Jones writes that the fresh approval for Trans Mountain doesn’t solve the energy industry’s problems: “Even if, miraculously, there are no snags in bringing to fruition the $7.4-billion expanded link between Alberta’s oil and the West Coast’s access to markets, it could be years before global investors are convinced of solid prospects for returning to the sector.”

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This is the twice 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:

Vancouver real estate: The Globe’s China correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe reports that amid the protests in Hong Kong in recent days against encroaching Beijing influence, some residents of the city are electing to vote with their feet. He notes agents in Vancouver have noticed Hong Kong buyers ​are turning up at open house showings in Vancouver in numbers that eclipse the number of prospective buyers from Mainland China.

He writes that the people arriving at home showings in Vancouver offer a vivid example of the global dislocations under way as Hong Kong finds itself newly immersed in fear that its unique status under China’s one-country, two-systems framework is under threat. Millions have marched in the city to protest a proposed extradition law, which has heightened fears that Beijing is encroaching on the legal system that upholds the city’s liberties.

Flood protection: If all goes according to plan, in a few years Fort McMurray will be a walled city. The anticipated cost to protect the Northern Alberta city from flooding: nearly $300-million.​

Reporter Matthew McClearn put that into perspective, noting that in 2006, a provincial committee recommended a suite of flood-mitigation measures across the entire province – safeguarding 54 municipalities – whose total cost was just more than $300-million. Fort Mac’s dikes might be the largest Canadian flood-prevention project you’ve never heard of, he writes.

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Opioids: When 16-year-old Elliot Eurchuk died in his parents’ home of an opioid overdose, he had already overdosed once before, while in hospital being treated for a blood infection. He was discharged six days later. His parents, out of desperation, sought to have him committed under the Mental Health Act. But despite his age, his brush with death and his addiction, his parents could not access the details of his health issues until after his death.

Now a coroner’s jury is examining Mr. Eurchuk’s death and whether changes are needed to strike a balance between a young patient’s privacy and a parent’s need for information.

Ranch succession: Roy MacGregor spent some time in Alberta ranch country, where succession is a little-talked about issue in agriculture. A 2016 study by Statistics Canada found that the average age of Canadian farmers had risen to 55, an age where many Canadians are often retiring, or at least beginning to plan for retirement. The survey found more farmers were over the age of 70 than were under age 35. And an astonishing 92 per cent of farms had no written plan for who might take over once the main operator retires.

Roy met up with Jack Anderson, 91, who built W.A. Ranches from scratch into a $44-million entity that he and his daughter will now give away to the University of Calgary's vet school.

Opinion:

Ed Whittingham on why approving Trans Mountain strikes the right balance: “Energy evolution is hard for any company, province or entire country. To be clear, a pipeline is no panacea for all that ails Alberta’s oil and gas industry. But it will definitely strengthen balance sheets, and financial health is needed for Alberta to evolve.”

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Leah George Wilson on opposition to Trans Mountain: “Tsleil-Waututh Nation does not want to find ourselves back in the same position we were in in 2017. However, given what is at stake, Tsleil-Waututh is prepared to use all legal tools necessary to ensure that our rights are protected for our future generations. Our obligation is not to oil. Our obligation is to our land, our water, our people, our future. This project represents a risk that we cannot take.”

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