B.C. will help shape battleground in pipeline...
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Jan 28, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

B.C. will help shape battleground in pipeline debate back east: Hébert

Justin Trudeau’s success in turning the anti-pipeline tide in B.C. will go a long way to determine how far his government will push Quebec on Energy East

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Notwithstanding the political furor over Montreal’s opposition to the Energy East pipeline, the first test of Justin Trudeau’s government’s approach to the controversial pipeline file will take place in British Columbia.

To watch the backlash that has attended the news that Montreal-area mayors believe TransCanada project is too environmentally risky for the good of the more than four million people they represent, one would think they make up a fifth column that has just seized on an original idea to sabotage Canada.

In the House of Commons on Monday, the Conservatives rushed to the barricades calling on Trudeau to travel to Montreal to give his former Liberal colleague Denis Coderre a dressing-down in the name of national unity.

More than a few pundits opined the prime minister would ultimately have no option other than to force a pipeline to link Alberta’s oilsands to the coast of New Brunswick through his home province.

The CBC’s Rick Mercer joined the chorus. “This has nothing to do with Montreal. This has nothing to do with Quebec,” he ranted on this week’s show, arguing that Canada’s superior interest in getting more oil to market should supersede provincial or municipal considerations.

I was away from Canada on the second week of January and I might have missed a similar Mercer segment dealing with the so-called selfishness of British Columbia. On Monday, I did not hear the Conservative opposition urging Trudeau to fly to Victoria to talk reason to Premier Christy Clark.

And yet, in a final written submission to the National Energy Board submitted on Jan. 11, just days before the Coderre news conference, the B.C. government came down hard against a pipeline expansion that many describe as just as vital to Alberta’s economic health as Energy East.

The Trans Mountain plan is different from Energy East in that it involves the tripling of the capacity of an existing pipeline. It links Alberta to the Vancouver area and the Pacific Coast. But opposition to both plans has its roots in the same public health and environmental concerns. Inasmuch as the Quebec government — in contrast with its B.C. counterpart — has not yet come down against Energy East, opposition to the Trans Mountain is also of a higher order of political magnitude.

Last May, Metro Vancouver mayors lined up against the project. At the time Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson was no less blunt than Coderre last week. Based on an expert report that concluded a spill could have dire consequences for the air quality of the million people who live in the area and the region’s wildlife, Robertson dismissed the project as a “bad deal for Vancouver.”

In its NEB submission, Clark’s government concluded the company had failed to prove it would meet stringent oil spill safety requirements.

The Kinder Morgan project was on the drawing board before Energy East. It is further along in the regulatory process with the NEB scheduled — until Trudeau’s government came up with a longer timeline and an expanded consultation process — to make a recommendation to the federal government in the spring with a final cabinet decision a few months later. That will now happen in December.

The board was always expected to make any approval of the Kinder Morgan plan contingent on a series of conditions. As things stand now, those conditions would be unlikely to sway B.C.’s municipal and provincial governments.

In a damning report published this week federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand found that the NEB fails to follow up on whether its conditions are met in the case of half the projects it oversees. The hope in federal Liberal circles is that the extended review announced on Wednesday will restore confidence in the process.

It is hard to imagine that the federal government would bow to provincial opposition to a pipeline at the Pacific end of the country only to turn around and force an equally unpopular a project on the Atlantic side. Trudeau’s success in turning the anti-pipeline tide in B.C. will go a long way to determine how far his government will push Quebec on Energy East.

In the meantime, what we have had so far from some of the proponents of the TransCanada pipeline is an unhelpful case of two-tier political indignation.

Toronto Star

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