Governing in theory is easy. Making campaign pronouncements an everyday reality is another thing entirely.
The federal Liberals are discovering this now with their promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year. Terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere have helped undermine support for the undertaking. Now, many are urging the Liberals to give their election pledge a rethink.
There are other Liberal guarantees that will face similar tests, not the least of which is the party's pledge to drive a stake through Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project by instituting a tanker-traffic ban along the coast of British Columbia. Many believe it is a clever, circuitous way of dispatching the project without having to address the fact it's already received federal government approval, pending several stipulations.
Enbridge is in the process of addressing the 209 conditions set out last year by the National Energy Board.
One of the reasons it will not be so easy to end this venture is because of the work Enbridge has done bringing many of the more than 40 First Nations communities along the pipeline route onside. So far, 28 bands have signed equity agreements giving them a 10-per-cent share in the profits, among other incentives. The company is expected to soon announce it has reached equity accords with 10 or more other groups.
Enbridge has said aboriginal communities stand to share $1-billion if the project goes ahead.
While there certainly remains some First Nations opposition to the Gateway – the Federal Court is expected to rule early in the new year on one group's attempt to stop the pipeline – there would appear to be growing support as well. Enbridge put out a statement the other day saying it hoped the federal government would embark on the "required consultation" with First Nations and Metis along the pipeline route, given the "potential economic impact a crude oil tanker ban would have on those communities and Western Canada as a whole."
In other words, the new federal government should be prepared to meet some resistance from aboriginal groups once thought to be resolutely against the project. Given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's solemn promise to confer with First Nations on just about everything, it will be fascinating to see where this goes.
And we haven't even mentioned some of the other legal hassles a bill designed to halt tanker traffic along the West Coast will encounter. For instance, any measure that hinders American oil supplies from reaching communities in the Alaska panhandle is not going to make our U.S. neighbours happy. This is an area, remember, the Americans maintain they have freedom to navigate. They will assuredly take the Canadian government to court and have the support of other countries as well.
Meantime, Enbridge, despite all the prognostications that its Gateway plans are as good as dead, presses onward seemingly unaffected by all the doom and gloom. The company continues to address the NEB's many conditions and is burning good money doing it. To this point, Enbridge has spent more than half a billion dollars on the project, placing its faith in a process that was clearly spelled out at the outset by the previous government.
Should the new regime in Ottawa find a way to scotch Enbridge's plans, there will be more lawsuits, as the company will rightly want to be reimbursed for the money it invested in this endeavour before the rules were changed.
When you take the dollars Enbridge has already spent, add on the potential loss of income it faces, and then include the prospective revenue First Nations groups would also forfeit and want to be compensated for, suddenly you are talking a whole whack of dough.
The federal government may well end up making good on its promise to ensure the Northern Gateway pipeline never gets built. But it will not be a quick or easy process, nor an inexpensive one. Killing this pipeline could cost Ottawa north of a billion dollars – and months, if not years, in court.
I'm sure at one time it all looked much simpler than that.