Tag Archives: The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil

Rachel Notley, Justin Trudeau, John Horgan Bill Morneau and Andrew Weaver.

We bought a pipeline! How the key players are impacted by the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline

We own a pipeline!

Well, not yet.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced yesterday that the federal government plans to purchase the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline from Kinder Morgan Inc. by August 2018 if another investor cannot be found. The federal government has committed to help the Texas-based corporation find a new owner for the pipeline by August 2018, or else Ottawa will “purchase the company’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project and related pipeline and terminal assets for $4.5 billion.”

In the meantime, the federal government will loan funds to Kinder Morgan Inc. in order to start construction on the pipeline this summer. If the federal government does purchase the pipeline, which seems likely, then a Crown Corporation will be created to complete the estimate $9 billion expansion of the currently existing pipeline.

Morneau declared the federal government would be eager to sell the pipeline back to a private company once it is built, but if the project is truly in the national interest – and going to be built with public dollars – then maybe it should remain an asset of the federal government and the people of Canada.

Here is a look at how yesterday’s pipeline announcement impacts some of the key players in this seemingly never ending political dispute:

Justin Trudeau: The Prime Minister of Canada silenced conservative opponents from claiming he was secretly plotting the pipeline’s demise and mutes his social democratic opponents who say he was just kowtowing to a Texas-based oil company. While the project will move forward with the powers of the federal government behind it, it is unclear if this will help Trudeau’s Liberals electorally in Alberta (where his Liberal Party holds three seats) or in British Columbia (where his party holds 19 seats).

Rachel Notley: This is a big win for the Premier of Alberta. Notley has been the strongest public advocate for the pipeline expansion and has poured almost all of her political capital into the success of this project. She has taken a firm line with pipeline opponents, most notably the Government of British Columbia, by threatening to slow or halt the transport of oil and gas from Alberta into BC.

Kinder Morgan Inc: If all goes according to plan, Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. will walk away with a big $4.5 billion payment from the Government of Canada, all because our system of democracy and federalism inconvenienced its shareholders.

John Horgan: The Premier of British Columbia says he will continue to use the tools available to him to oppose the pipeline expansion, including its current legal challenges. The entry of the federal government as the owner of the pipeline introduces a new dynamic between the governments in Victoria and Ottawa. As many premiers have discovered, running for re-election with Ottawa as your main opponent can be a recipe for success.

Andrew Weaver: The leader of the BC Green Party holds the balance of power in his province as long as his 3-MLA caucus continues to support Horgan’s NDP government in Victoria. The Green leader described the federal government’s intervention as “a betrayal by a government who ran on a hopeful vision for a better future.” The Greens will expect Horgan to continue their fight against the pipeline and likely will not consider ending their agreement with the NDP until sometime after the upcoming Proportional Representation referendum.

Jason Kenney: The leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta supported Notley’s pitch last month for the Alberta government to invest in the pipeline, so he has once again been relegated to the sidelines on the pipeline issue.

Andrew Scheer: The leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa attacks the Trudeau Liberals for driving away private sector investment and claimed Trudeau forced through expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline by nationalizing the project. To better understand the track record of government involvement in the energy industry, Scheer would benefit from taking a crash-course in Canada’s energy history. I recommend he start his education by reading Larry Pratt’s The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil, which is an essential text on the history of Alberta’s oil sands.

Will the pipeline actually get built? Maybe. 

Ownership of the pipeline will change and the federal government does have powers, both political and legal, that a private corporation does not, the opposition to the pipeline has not magically evaporated overnight. Public opinion remains mixed in British Columbia and the opposition to the pipeline expansion is firm. There will continue to be protests against the pipeline and demonstrations of civil disobedience can be expected.

There are also a number of court challenges underway, including the BC government reference case and challenges from First Nations communities to the Federal Court of Appeal.

There is also a federal election scheduled to take place in October 2019 and a provincial election expected to be called in Alberta in spring 2019.

While Morneau was clear he wants construction on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion to begin immediately, a number of legal and political challenges still stand in the way of the project’s completion.

Put some Alberta Politics under the Christmas tree

Looking for that special gift for the political junkie in your family? Or maybe you’re searching for a good book to read by an open fire on a cold winter night? If so, here are a few Alberta politics books that might look good under your Christmas tree this year:

Where the Bodies Lie

Mark Lisac
NeWest Press
$20.95 at Audreys Books

An enjoyable mix of politics and intrigue make this fictional murder mystery a must-read for political watchers in Alberta. “Lisac’s backdrop may be the political scene, but his story is in the heart of his main characters, their flaws and aspirations. He is an elegant and efficient writer and sets lovely scenes and characters, creating a murder mystery with twists and engaging characters,” wrote Samantha Power in Vue Weekly.

 

Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country

Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid
Dundurn Press
$19.99 at Audreys Books

Calgary author Sydney Sharpe and Postmedia columnist Don Braid look at how decades of one-party rule, right-wing discontent and a growing progressive streak in Alberta led to the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP in our province’s historic 2015 election.

 

Farm Workers in Western Canada: Injustices and Activism

Editors: Shirley McDonald, Bob Barnetson
University of Alberta Press
$29.95 at Audreys Books (by special order)

This book was launched today, so I have not yet had a chance to read it. Here is the description from U of A Press:

Bill 6, the government of Alberta’s contentious farm workers’ safety legislation, sparked public debate as no other legislation has done in recent years. The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act provides a right to work safely and a compensation system for those killed or injured at work, similar to other provinces.

In nine essays, contributors to Farm Workers in Western Canada place this legislation in context. They look at the origins, work conditions, and precarious lives of farm workers in terms of larger historical forces such as colonialism, land rights, and racism. They also examine how the rights and privileges of farm workers, including seasonal and temporary foreign workers, conflict with those of their employers, and reveal the barriers many face by being excluded from most statutory employment laws, sometimes in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 

Grant Notley: The Social Conscience of Alberta

Howard Leeson
University of Alberta Press
$24.95 at Audreys Books

Written by his former executive assistant, this biography provides a look into the compelling life story of Grant Notley, the father of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who led the NDP from 1968 until his death in 1984. His passion for our province and social democratic politics is a refreshing reminder of a level of respect that used to exist among political opponents and adversaries in our province.

 

Thin Power
Andy Marshall
Friesen Press
$16.99

Thin Power is the unauthorized biography of former mayor of Calgary, Rod Sykes, featuring the achievements and bitter controversies of his eight-year term ending in 1977. David Climenhaga wrote a review of the book over at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

 

The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil

Larry Pratt
Hurtig Press

Hard to find but worth the read, this 1976 book provides a thorough background background to the politics and economics that led to the creation of the Syncrude project and development of the Athabasca oil sands. A review by ActiveHistory.ca describes the book as an essential text on the history of Alberta’s tar sands. Used copies can be found on amazon.com.

And from south of the border:

Whistlestop

John Dickerson
Hachette Book Group
$39.00 at Audreys Books (by special order)

A compendium of John Dickerson’s favourite moments from US Presidential election history. The host of Face the Nation on CBS News and columnist for Slate Magazine does an excellent job translating stories from his popular Whistlestop podcast into this fun to read political history book.

 

(This post was inspired by Stephen Maher’s piece over at iPolitics.ca