You could have seen it coming. It was just a matter of time. Kinder Morgan is fed up. If it doesn’t get some guarantee that its Trans Mountain pipeline extension can actually be built, it will take its billions and go home.
Not everyone regards this as bad news. Environmentalists are rejoicing. “A huge win for planet Earth,” tweeted Bill McKibben, a leading prophet of the environmental movement.
But the loss of Trans Mountain would also be a huge loss for the country, the rule of law, due process and our international reputation as a good place to invest. Blame the protesters and B.C.’s NDP government if you want. But the real culprit is Justin Trudeau, who has been essentially missing in action on Trans Mountain. The pipeline must be built, he tweets, as if tweeting will make it so. But he has shown no inclination to do anything else that might make it so.
By one estimate, pipeline delays are costing the country more than $15-billion a year. As David Dodge, a former governor of the Bank of Canada, told the CBC more than a year ago, “It’s absolutely unconscionable that we don’t take the actions we need to move [our oil] so that Canadians receive the full value for the product.”
You wouldn’t know this from Mr. Trudeau, who can scarcely mention the word “pipelines” without mentioning “the environment,” as if “the environment” were an incantation meant to ward off the evil eye. He has always insisted that it is perfectly possible to fuse energy policy and environmental policy so that everybody is happy. Here’s the result so far: Everybody is unhappy. His carbon tax plan is heading for ferocious federal-provincial battles. Our Paris commitments are nakedly not achievable. Two provinces are at each other’s throats. Emboldened environmentalists smell blood, and Indigenous leaders in B.C. are all but begging to martyr themselves before the TV cameras. Mr. Trudeau’s pipeline record is so far 0 for 3.
“It is hard to overstate the gravity of the suspension of Trans Mountain,” Jason Kenney, Leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, tweeted Sunday. Mr. Kenney likes to indulge in hyperbole, but in this case he’s absolutely right. “If we can’t ensure that the rule of law prevails on Trans Mountain, it means that Canada is broken.”
It may well be that we can’t guarantee the rule of law will be followed. Who’s going to send the army into B.C.? Not Mr. Trudeau. He’s a lover, not a fighter. He has an aversion to hard choices. He’s great at charm, but not so good at knocking heads together. In the case of Trans Mountain, he’s been happy to take the path of least resistance. Brian Mulroney would have jawboned everyone to death. Justin’s dad, Pierre, would have said, “Just watch me.” Justin’s preferred strategy has been to hope that somehow things work out for the best. That’s not going to happen.
This government is overweighted with left-liberal social-justice types and badly underweighted with the kind of right-liberal business types (Paul Martin, John Manley) who could have smelled this coming. Does anyone around Mr. Trudeau understand how business decision-makers think? There’s no evidence of that.
What Kinder Morgan doesn’t need is government investments to ease the way. What it needs is legal certainty that the pipeline will go through. By now this might be impossible to deliver. But it is an entirely reasonable thing to want. The company has already spent years securing regulatory approvals. It has jumped through every hoop. It has spent a whopping $1.1-billion just to get this far. But it is not ready to become a martyr. It’s ready to put shovels in the ground. No sane company would keep throwing good money after bad if there’s no guarantee the project won’t be stopped, or stalled for years by legal challenges or by the reluctance of governments to enforce the laws. No one should believe that Kinder Morgan is bluffing. And the truth is that as badly as it may need this project, Canada needs it more.
The broader message of the Kinder Morgan saga is that private capital can no longer bear the uncertainties that have been inflicted on them by government policies, and by constitutional wrangles that are totally beyond their control.
”If this project goes down, all hell is going to break loose,” warns Dennis McConaghy, a retired senior Canadian energy executive. “We’ll have alienation not just in Alberta but from anyone who believes that our regulatory processes mean something.”
In other words, hope is not a strategy. It never was.