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Disappointed Horgan says B.C. will continue with Trans Mountain pipeline fight

Premier John Horgan, right, and B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman, left.
Premier John Horgan, right, and B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman, left. - NICK PROCAYLO / PNG
VICTORIA, B.C. —

Premier John Horgan says he’s disappointed that Ottawa has again approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and B.C. will continue with its court challenges.

“Although I regret the federal government’s decision it is within their authority to make that decision, it is now up to George and I and to make sure as this project proceeds will have no impact on our environment,” Horgan said, referring to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, during a news conference in Vancouver.

Horgan said B.C. will continue it reference case to the Supreme Court of Canada to determine whether the province has the power to pass legislation that would restrict the flow of additional oil from Alberta.

However, he said the province will issue permits to the Trans Mountain project if they are lawful and will not obstruct the project that way.

“As we issue permits, should the permits be lawfully sought, should the permits not be contravening any of the conditions put in place by either the National Energy Board or federal government, we will proceed in an appropriate manner,” said Horgan.

Horgan said he thinks even proponents of the pipeline would want him to continue to fight to ensure the marine response plan from the federal government is adequate for an oilspill.

Heyman said the government continues to find shortcomings in Ottawa’s plans to protect against the catastrophic effects of an oil spill in coastal waters.

“Let me say to British Columbians who value our environment, who cherish their coast, who expect their government to stand up for their interests, we will not abandon our responsibility to protect our land and water, we will continue to stand up and protect our environment and coast,” said Heyman.

Horgan said B.C. will examine future First Nations court challenges to the project and did not rule out joining them, saying they will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

B.C. was reacting to Ottawa’s decision Tuesday to approve a proposal to twin the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from near Edmonton to Burnaby.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the pipeline will generate much-needed good-paying jobs, and will take into account the impact on salmon habitats, endangered killer whales.

“To British Columbians who worry about a spill, for example, we take your concerns very seriously,” Trudeau said Tuesday, adding he has “deep routes” in the province.

“Our top priority is making sure there’s no spill in the first place.”

Trudeau said construction would begin “this construction season” and that all revenue generated from the pipeline (more than $500 million a year when fully operational) would “be invested in Canada’s clean energy transition.”

“We will invest this money as well as any profits from the sale of the pipeline into clean energy projects that will power our homes businesses and communities for generations to come,” said Trudeau.

Trudeau also said he will launch a new phase of engagement to seek ways First Nations can share in the project, including an equity stake of up to 100 per cent or revenue sharing.

Horgan said he’s not convinced Ottawa will be making money on the pipeline any time soon after the upfront capital costs.

Opposition B.C. Liberal critic Peter Milobar called Ottawa’s approval “very good news” and said jobs generated to build the pipeline could help mitigate mill closures and layoffs in the forestry sector.

“I think this is a time now for Premier Horgan and Minister Heyman to get out of the way and to drop their federal case to their appeal and to actually try to figure out ways to fast-track what permits are left to be issued and get people working,” he said. “A lot of people in communities are hurting very much right now would like to have those opportunities.”

The B.C. Greens slammed the decision.

“The Liberal government’s decision to forge ahead with the Trans Mountain Expansion project is an abdication of their responsibility to Canadians to show climate leadership,” said Green leader Andrew Weaver in a statement.

The federal government purchased the pipeline from Kinder Morgan in 2018 for $4.5 billion, saying the expansion project was in the national interest to get oil from Alberta to overseas markets through B.C.’s coast.

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed previous approval of the pipeline in 2018, citing a lack of proper consultation with six First Nations and a lack of examination of tanker traffic’s impact on endangered killer whales.

In response, the National Energy Board reconsidered the project and added 16 more conditions on the impact of marine shipping earlier this year, and Ottawa hired a former judge to launch new consultations with First Nations.

The 990-kilometre expansion would triple the flow of crude and refined oil from Alberta to B.C., up to 890,000 barrels per day.

The B.C. NDP government has opposed the project, and Horgan’s minority government is propped up with through a power-sharing deal with the B.C. Green party that mandates the province to do everything it can to stop the expansion of the pipeline.

Horgan promised in the 2007 B.C. election to “use every tool in our tool box to stop the project from going ahead.”

Much of the NDP campaign focused on preventing increased tanker traffic on the coast due to an expanded pipeline’s increased flow of oil from Alberta.

However, since forming government, Horgan and his ministers have slowly admitted the province has few options.

B.C. does not have the power to regulate oil tankers on the ocean, its lawyers have admitted. It cannot unreasonably stall or reject any permits for pipeline construction without facing a massive lawsuit. And proposed legislation to restrict the flow of new oil from a pipeline into B.C. on environmental grounds was deemed unconstitutional by the B.C. Court of Appeal in a reference case.

The B.C. government intends to take its proposed legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada for review. And it is currently challenging Alberta legislation that threatens to curtail the flow of oil to B.C. through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline if B.C. continues to oppose the project’s expansion.

First Nations and environmental groups have opposed the expanded project, saying the threat of a spill would severely harm the ocean and that First Nations were not adequately consulted.

Meanwhile, some public opinion polls show some favour for the project. An online poll of 803 people conducted last week by Ipsos found 60 per cent support the project, compared to 29 per cent opposed, with a four-per-cent margin of error.

rshaw@postmedia.com

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