By Trevor Busch
With the Federal Court of Appeal lowering the boom on the Trudeau government’s approvals to construct the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion last week, many Canadians — both inside and outside of the resource sector — are beginning to question a system which appears to leave little room for projects in the national interest.
Hailed as a major victory by Indigenous groups and environmentalists, last week’s reversal on the plans to move forward leaves the $7.4 billion project in the proverbial lurch for the foreseeable future.
“As I’ve said before — it’s a challenge to get this thing built,” said Bow River MP Martin Shields. “If the government a year and half ago had said they were going to get this thing built, get done the process, get these things done, and support Kinder Morgan getting it done, we could have been a year and half already into this process — if there’d been road blocks, court things — if the federal government had just said let’s move this thing along. Instead they bought it, and now they’re stuck trying to appeal these things a year and half later after it could have been moving.”
The Federal Court of Appeal’s decision, handed down on Thursday, found the National Energy Board’s (NEB) assessment of the expansion did not properly account for consultation with Indigenous stakeholders and should not have formed the basis for the federal government’s approval in November 2016.
“The ruling, as I understand it, they took a whole bunch of appeals that came at them from different groups, so they put it all together on this one,” said Shields. “So maybe in a sense — if they put them all together — they can deal with this roadblock. But again, it’s an immediate shutdown, we’re approaching the fall.”
Shields believes the court’s ruling will result in huge delays for the pipeline expansion while the energy regulator and the federal government reassess their approvals of the 1,150 kilometer project.
“If you’re in immediate shutdown and you’re shut down for weeks or months, you’re not going to get back in business for a long time. When you start shutting construction projects down in the fall, end of the summer, this is going to get to be a delay, big time.”
After the expansion ran into organized opposition and further delays earlier this spring, Kinder Morgan agreed to sell the project to the federal government.
Only hours after the court decision, Kinder Morgan shareholders overwhelmingly approved the sale leaving the government with a pipeline project mired in legal limbo.
Shields argues the federal government could have avoided the current situation if they had acted more aggressively in support of the project in 2017.
“Instead of just waiting, they could have been proactive a year and half ago and supported Kinder Morgan getting it done, and then we wouldn’t have had to spend $4.5 billion off the start. The shareholders of Kinder Morgan today voted 99 per cent to accept that $4.5 billion, what a surprise. They (federal government) really need to look at all the roadblocks that are going to come up, let’s be proactive, and let’s get the thing done instead of just waiting, and waiting, and waiting. They could take the lead on this — they really could — and show leadership in it. But they’re not.”
In the original approval, the NEB determined the pipeline would not cause adverse environmental impact, but the court found the assessment failed to take into account the impacts of marine shipping and increased tanker traffic on the B.C. coast.
Reaction in Alberta has been swift, with Premier Rachel Notley attacking the court’s decision as bad for working families and the economic security of the nation, while announcing she’s pulling the province out of the federal government’s climate change plan.
Shields views the decision and further delays as more bad news for foreign investment in the resource sector, and an open advertisement that Canada’s regulatory system with regard to large-scale national projects is in shambles.
“The market in the resource sector went down today with this announcement of this delay. We haven’t created a more positive atmosphere for investors in the resource sector to come back. Although the government bought Kinder Morgan, it still didn’t change that attitude, the opinion, the belief out there that Canada is not ready to support the resource sector. That has not changed, and that is not money coming back yet. It left, and it’s not coming back yet. There’s got to be more positive direction to get industry moving.”