Skip to main content

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks in Toronto on Nov. 20, 2017.Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr will deliver a tag-team effort in Vancouver next week as the two governments take their defence of the controversial Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion to the home of its most vociferous opponents.

The NDP Premier and the Liberal minister will deliver separate keynote speeches on Thursday at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade's energy forum, where Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. president Ian Anderson is also scheduled to speak.

For Ms. Notley, the federal minister's appearance in Vancouver comes at a key time, after she complained this week that Ottawa needed to "step up" its support for the pipeline expansion and go to where the opposition is to make the case for it. Jason Kenney, leader of the opposition United Conservative Party in Alberta, is demanding that Ms. Notley take harder line with the federal government, which he accuses of providing only pro forma support after approving a project that he says is critical to the health of the province's leading industry.

In Calgary on Friday, Ms. Notley said her government is determined to secure an export route to Pacific markets for the province's oil producers.

"Despite the fact that Alberta's energy industry is the cleanest and safest in the world, there are still those who want to stop us from breaking the land lock and diversifying our markets," she said. "But we're not going to let them."

Kinder Morgan has begun construction for the project but is being blocked in Burnaby, B.C., a city that insists it needs more information before it issues necessary permits. That matter is now before the National Energy Board, with the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments backing Kinder Morgan's request for a federal order compelling the city to issue the permits.

As well, Vancouver and Burnaby have joined in a challenge by environmentalists and some First Nations of both the federal approval of the $7.4-billion project and the permit issued by the previous Liberal government in British Columbia.

The Kinder Morgan project has become the latest flashpoint in the lengthy, bitter battle pitting the Western Canadian oil industry and the politicians who support it, against those environmentalists and local mayors who oppose oil sands expansion over concerns about climate change and pipeline safety. Their fears were underscored earlier this month when TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone pipeline leaked 5,000-barrels of crude in South Dakota, the latest of three significant leaks since the line was opened less than 10 years ago.

For Ms. Notley, the fate of the Trans Mountain expansion is also a critical political issue. Having seen her government's support slide since she took office in May, 2015, the Premier is keen to demonstrate that her policies for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will help get pipelines built. Momentum on Trans Mountain in B.C. would clearly boost her credibility at home.

In her speech in Calgary on Friday, Ms. Notley put her own twist on the "ethical oil" argument long used by conservative industry supporters who insist it is better for the world to purchase crude from a Western democracy such as Canada than from a repressive kingdom such as Saudi Arabia.

"The choice is whether that oil will come from a responsible, progressive and forward-looking energy producer like Alberta, or from somewhere with no standards to speak of, like Russia," she said.

Ms. Notley was introduced by Kinder Morgan's Mr. Anderson, who praised her for her efforts, and she received a standing ovation after the speech from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce crowd.

Both Mr. Carr and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have reiterated their support for the Trans Mountain project, which the government approved a year ago after a National Energy Board conclusion that the project is in the national interest while environmental risks can be managed.

In his Vancouver speech next week, Mr. Carr will highlight what he refers to as the "three pillars" of government policy on Trans Mountain: stimulating jobs and diversifying Canada's export markets, putting in place measures to enhance the safety of the pipeline and the tanker traffic and partnering with Indigenous communities along the route to monitor construction and operations.

"I'm looking forward to being in British Columbia to talk about the unprecedented steps we've taken on safety, particularly with regards to marine safety," the minister said in an interview. "We understand the safety of these pipelines are first and foremost to Canadians and to our government."

As for climate-change policy, Mr. Carr said all pipeline approvals fall within Alberta's climate strategy, which includes a cap on emissions from the oil sands. (That limit will not be hit until there has been a decade or so of production growth, given current investment plans.)

During a visit to Ottawa this week, Ms. Notley was blunt about the connection between greater export capacity for the oil industry and Canada's national climate strategy. Without efforts to ensure a healthy oil industry, Albertans will not support her climate strategy, and without Alberta, there is no national climate plan, she said.

Indeed, Alberta agreed to increase its carbon tax to $50 a tonne by 2022 only after Ottawa approved the Kinder Morgan project. Mr. Kenney has urged the NDP government to freeze the tax at its current rate of $20 a tonne until it is clear the pipeline will be built.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who serves as chair of the Metro Vancouver Climate Action Committee, said he opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline over fears about local impacts from spills as well as the concern that it would contribute to growth in the oil sands and make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for Canada to meet its international obligations.

"The idea that, in order to combat climate change you need to build pipelines, you must see the absurdity of that," he said. "Her argument speaks of desperation … And the fact that she's worried about getting re-elected while she panders to the oil industry is not my concern."

Karen Mahon, Canadian director of the environmental group, argued that the pipeline project fails on a number of grounds, including marine safety and reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians. Three First Nations communities in B.C. have launched their own challenges to federal and provincial permits for the pipeline expansion.

Ms. Mahon stood in support of Ms. Notley two years ago when the NDP announced its climate strategy, but insists there was no quid pro quo that action on GHG emissions would translate into support from her group for pipelines. On the contrary, she said the NDP government is offering "false hope" of a secure economic future to oil industry workers, in hopes of securing some short-term political support.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley praised Nebraska’s decision on Monday to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to run through the state. But federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May called the decision disappointing.

The Canadian Press