The B.C. government says Ottawa is interfering in an independent review connected to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, just days after Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called on Ottawa to intensify its efforts to defend the project.
"It's both a highly unusual and a highly troubling intrusion on a province's right to enforce its own permits, its own regulations and the interests of its own citizens," B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said in an interview on Wednesday. "We do not take kindly to this intervention."
Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced in a statement on Wednesday that Canada has filed a letter to the National Energy Board supporting a process to quickly resolve conflicts with local and provincial governments that could slow down construction on the pipeline.
Both Ms. Notley and Mr. Carr are scheduled to speak in Vancouver on Thursday to defend the pipeline expansion project that will help Alberta oil producers expand their export route to Pacific markets. Last week, the Alberta Premier said Ottawa needed to "step up" its support for the pipeline expansion.
The NEB is hearing a complaint from Kinder Morgan, which has already begun construction, that the city of Burnaby, B.C., is blocking the project by refusing to issue four permits. The city, which opposes the project, denies any unreasonable delay.
The company – now with Ottawa's support – wants a standing panel to allow any future permit disputes to be resolved quickly.
That proposal anticipates new conflicts that could arise with local governments or the B.C. government: The B.C. government granted approval for the pipeline expansion prior to the last provincial election in May, but the new NDP government has vowed to use every legal tool it can to stop the project.
"The [federal] government is supportive of establishing a process that would assist in resolving any conflicts over the issuance of municipal or provincial permits and avoid unnecessary delays to project construction or regulatory compliance," Mr. Carr said in his statement.
However Mr. Heyman said the concern is not justified.
"The federal government should not be intruding on provincial rights and authority," he said.
"I would expect the National Energy Board, which in this case has the powers of the federal court, to understand that we as a province have a responsibility and a right to both permit and enforce our own standards. "
Mr. Heyman said the province is following due process in its permit process and he noted the company has agreed that there is no sign of political interference at the provincial level. At the same time, the B.C. government has joined a legal challenge by environmentalists and some First Nations of the federal approval of the $7.4-billion project.
A federal official said Mr. Carr's statement is not directed at the company's dispute with the municipality of Burnaby.
However, Kinder Morgan has filed another application asking the NEB to establish a standing panel to deal on an expedited basis with future disputes between the company and the province or municipalities over permits. It is that proposed "expedited process" that B.C. is objecting to.
B.C. has already issued hundreds of permits, but there are hundreds that have yet to be issued, the official said, before Kinder Morgan can complete the project. The official stressed that the statement does not amount to a formal intervention in the case.
In Calgary on Wednesday, the NEB heard Mike Davies, Trans Mountain's senior director of marine development, say the company's dealings with Burnaby have been difficult for some time.