In the battle over the future of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, the B.C. government is asking Ottawa to improve its Oceans Protection Plan, providing additional resources to the coast to address the risk of oil spills.
But the province is not willing to pull back on its opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline in exchange.
“There is not a relationship there,” B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said in a recent interview. He was asked, several times in several ways, what measures Ottawa could provide in exchange for the province’s support for Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion project.
Ottawa has offered to work with B.C. to address its concerns, but that conciliatory mood has a fast-expiring shelf life.
Last week, on the same day that B.C. went to court seeking jurisdiction to limit the transport of heavy oil, Ottawa released a formal response to the province’s concerns about oil-spill response.
The 24,000-word essay is a rebuttal to B.C.’s claims that Canada has not done enough – and isn’t planning to do enough – to protect the coast from a catastrophic oil spill.
“British Columbia does not address the robust federal safety regimes, the long-standing scientific expertise, and significant recent investments made by the Government of Canada related to spill management,” said the paper, which was filed in response to B.C.’s current round of consultation on oil spills.
The federal government says it has already addressed the existing gaps in oil-spill protection – gaps that were revealed in the Marathassa and Nathan E. Stewart spills – with its $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan.
Although the plan covers all three of Canada’s coastlines, it was announced at the same time that the Trudeau government gave approval for Kinder Morgan’s expansion project. This is Ottawa’s answer to concerns on B.C.’s coast about the increased oil-tanker traffic that will result from the Kinder Morgan expansion project.
In Victoria, the Horgan government says the plan does not go far enough, and B.C. has outlined six areas where it says Ottawa must do better. Those include assurances on spill response times, regional marine-response plans and commitments to compensation for loss of public use resulting from a spill.
But Mr. Heyman said meeting these demands would not lay a path that would see his government embrace the project.
“This particular project is very risky,” he said.
The BC NDP government that came to power last July told voters it would fight to kill the project. However, it has since abandoned that language, because the province’s legal advisers warned that B.C. must not be seen to frustrate the federal government’s approval of the pipeline.
Instead, the province is seeking the ability to control any additional flow of diluted bitumen across the province by any means – truck, rail or pipeline. Its carefully crafted reference case filed in the B.C. Court of Appeal makes no mention of Kinder Morgan.
Mr. Heyman could not cite any set of actions by Ottawa that would result in his province standing down on its legal case.
He says Ottawa has made clear that it doesn’t need the blessing of the province of B.C. for the pipeline. And that leaves his government with no choice but to proceed to the courts.
“A ‘yes’ from the province of British Columbia is not required. The federal government has made it clear that the Constitution says they have final approval over an inter-provincial project,” he said.
“What the Constitution gives provinces, is the right to impose conditions and regulations to protect our environmental and economic and social interests, and that’s what we are doing. It doesn’t mean we like the project.”
The reference case could take months – or years – to wind its way through the courts. But Kinder Morgan Inc. has accused the B.C. government of trying to indirectly kill the project by creating risk. It has issued a May 31 deadline for Ottawa to remove that risk.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to be in Vancouver on Monday. He isn’t expected to announce how his government will defuse B.C.’s court challenge, but his government has very little time left to act. And a political compromise seems unlikely.