Notley demands Trudeau take action to restart construction on Trans Mountain Expansion halted after Thursday court verdict
Rachel Notley is mad as hell and she’s not taking it anymore: “…with Trans Mountain halted, until the federal government gets its act together, Alberta is pulling out of the federal climate plan.” She certainly got Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attention, but will it make a difference?
The Alberta premier was responding to a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal, released Thursday, that overturned the federal approval for the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project based upon inadequate consultation with indigenous peoples and lack of a plan to protect Southern resident killer whales off the West coast.
“In coffee shops, on shop floors and in boardrooms around the country, I have heard directly from thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens who understand that a strong Alberta equals a strong Canada and a pipeline to the coast is critical to that,” she said at a live media conference.
“Albertans are angry. I’m angry. Alberta has done everything right and we have been let down.”
She didn’t flinch when naming those she believes are responsible for the frequent delays to the 590,000 b/d project that will carry diluted bitumen to the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby, BC where it will be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia and California.
“The combined result of the actions taken by the Harper government, the current federal government, the National Energy Board and the Federal Court of Appeal means that the current state of affairs in Canada is such that building a pipeline to tidewater is practically impossible,” she said.
Yesterday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau also blamed the Conservatives under Stephen Harper for a “flawed environment review process,” and there government insiders have told Energi News that little indigenous consulation had been done when the Liberals formed government in late 2015.
But that doesn’t let Trudeau off the hook.
The court made clear its concern was with the Phase III part of the consultation process only, which means the three-member panel chaired by Kim Baird that in 2016 to engage “local communities and Indigenous peoples to identify whether there were any additional views not heard during the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review process…”
The court’s decision noted that “Canada’s efforts fell well short of the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada. Canada failed in Phase III to engage, dialogue meaningfully and grapple with the real concerns of the Indigenous applicants so as to explore possible accommodation of those concerns.”
The reason Phase III failed is that the Baird panel was limited by its mandate from Ottawa to only listen and take notes. Despite the federal government’s promise at the outset of the Phase III process, the panel was never empowered to enage and consult in a way that would meet the legal threshold.
Basically, the Liberals took a short cut and were caught out by the appeal court.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should admit responsibility for that mistake. He hasn’t. Nor has Morneau or Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
The best Trudeau could was a Thursday Tweet repeating what he has said all along: “Today I spoke with Premier RachelNotley – and reassured her that the federal government stands by the TMX expansion project and will ensure it moves forward in the right way,” Trudeau tweeted Thursday.
In a recent interview with Energi News, Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips provided some insight into the Trudeau Government’s Trans Mountain Expansion strategy, which was that once the decision to approve was announced in late Nov. 2016 there were no attempts to persuade or negotiate support from the BC government or indigenous communities.
“I know that the federal government’s position was simply that the pipeline was approved and that it’s a project in the national interest and it shall proceed,” she said in an exclusive interview.
“Maybe that is another instance where the younger Trudeau’s federalism is a little bit different. He wasn’t going to come with sacks of money [to buy support from BC opponents]. The decision is the decision.”
Notley is using the only leverage she has to finally spur Trudeau and Morneau to quickly change their “the decision is the decision” approach: the Prime Minister’s cherished national climate strategy.
“There was always an understanding at my level that our support for the Pan-Canadian framework [for energy and climate policy] hinged on the approval of the pipeline,” said Phillips.
Notley has withdrawn her support:
And let’s be clear – without Alberta, that plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. I don’t take this decision lightly. Every Canadian has a stake in climate action – no one more so than my kids, your kids and the generations who will follow us. But Alberta, and indeed Canada, can’t transition to a lower carbon economy, we can’t build a more just, equal and prosperous society – we can’t do these things if we can’t provide the jobs and prosperity that comes from getting fair value for our resources.
In practical terms, not much changes.
The federal climate plan is designed to act as a backstop for provincial climate plans that would only apply if a province refused to act, such as Saskatchewan’s resistance to carbon pricing. Since Alberta under Notley has implemented climate policy far in advance of other provinces, the federal plan was never going to apply.
But Alberta’s support means everything to Trudeau’s political efforts to sell his climate approach to Canadians and other premiers.
Phillips notes that when the Liberal leader travelled to Paris in Dec. 2015 to attend the climate talks, “Canada was back because Alberta was there. That’s all they had. Everything they offered in the Paris negotiations were substantive things that we as a government had committed to and had already begun work on.”
She says that Alberta used that leverage to get Trans Mountain Expansion and the Line 3 project approved in 2016.
Notley is using it again. During her media conference she issued a three-part ultimatum to Trudeau:
First, the federal government must immediately launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even more importantly, Ottawa must immediately recall an emergency session of Parliament to assert its authority and fix the NEB process as it relates to this project to make it clear that marine matters have been and will be dealt in a different forum. Then Ottawa needs to roll up its sleeves and continue its work to protect our coast and improve consultation and accommodation relating to Indigenous peoples in the way they deserve.
She has no choice, according to political scientist Keith Brownsey.
“This plays right into [UCP leader] Jason Kenney’s hands. With a provincial election likely next spring, decisive action was the only option left to the Premier,” he said in an interview.
Expect Notley to keep up the pressure. She called Alberta the “economic engine of this country” and promised to aggressively defend her province’s interests.
She needs Trudeau to move quickly and decisively. If he doesn’t, Albertans can expect more fiery rhetoric from the Premier and action similar to the BC wine ban of last year.
The gloves are off.