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Energy and Resources B.C.’s John Horgan remains tight-lipped on Trans Mountain pipeline permits

Boaters fish for trout on Jacko Lake, near the site of a proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline.

Chris Helgren/Reuters

B.C. Premier John Horgan offered no assurance on Tuesday that his government will issue permits that Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. needs to commence construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in September, despite federal approval for the $7.4-billion project that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley considers critical to her province's economic well-being.

After meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Mr. Horgan said his government continues to review whether it has grounds to block the controversial pipeline project that faces legal challenges from First Nations and opposition from Vancouver-area municipalities.

Both the New Democratic Party Premier and the Liberal Prime Minister sought to emphasize their common ground on a variety of economic and social issues, suggesting they spent little time in their hour-long meeting on Parliament Hill discussing the contentious energy project.

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Last week, Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd.'s chief executive officer Ian Anderson said the company is on track to begin work on the project in September, but noted it still needs a number of provincial construction permits.

As well, Kinder Morgan must satisfy National Energy Board requirements that it has met scores of conditions that the board recommended and the government accepted when Ottawa granted approval last November.

Standing with the Prime Minister, Mr. Horgan played his cards close to his chest on Tuesday, neither committing to the issuance of permits nor uttering threats about blocking the pipeline. He said he has met with leadership of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam First Nations, which have launched court actions aimed at overturning the federal permit.

"We're working with the Attorney-General's ministry to look at legal actions under way," he told reporters. "I'll be meeting with officials responsible for permitting in the days and weeks ahead and we'll manage those issues in the fullness of time."

Mr. Horgan's newly appointed attorney general, David Eby, warned that the province must be careful when it comes to permits, saying his government won't risk lawsuits by artificially delaying such approvals. He said the government can ensure that permits require construction be done in a way that minimizes spills, protects the environment and ensures appropriate cleanup.

"I've been tasked by the premier to identify our options. There is an important piece to that, which is that we must do so within the laws of British Columbia and Canada, because if we don't, we'll be sued," Mr. Eby told Kamloops radio station CHNL.

"We'll end up paying hundreds of millions of dollars that should be going to schools and hospitals to an oil company and that is not a goal that anybody's looking for."

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In reaching an agreement with the Green Party to back his minority government, the NDP Premier vowed to use "every tool available" to stop the project. However, in a mandate letter Mr. Horgan provided to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman and released this week, the Premier softened that language, saying the government should "employ every tool to defend B.C. interests" in face of the Kinder Morgan expansion.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he'll hold the New Democrats to their earlier pledge.

"We understand that there are legal considerations that the government will be taking into account," Mr. Weaver said in an e-mailed statement. "However, we expect the NDP to stay true to their original commitment."

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has urged the B.C. government not to interfere with the federally approved project, saying it would provided a much needed lift for her province's beleaguered oil industry.

With Mr. Horgan looking on, Prime Minister Trudeau defended the federal government's decision to give the pipeline a green light. Mr. Trudeau said his government is determined to balance economic development and environmental protection, noting that Ottawa has developed a Canadian climate-change approach that includes national carbon pricing; has increased funding for oceans protections; and is forging new partnerships with Indigenous people.

"We know that decisions we take are based on facts and evidence, and we're going to continue to stand by the decisions that we took in a respectful way," the Prime Minister said.

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Conservative Party MP Mark Strahl said Mr. Trudeau clearly missed an opportunity with Mr. Horgan to highlight the economic benefits that pipeline would bring.

"We need a champion if this project is going to go forward," said Mr. Strahl, the party's natural-resource critic. "He never uses any of his own political capital by promoting the project when he's talking to the British Columbians, including in this case the Premier."

With files from The Canadian Press

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