Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today the fate of three pipelines that have dominated political debate in Alberta over the past six years. Yes to Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline. No to the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Yes to the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline replacement. Plus, a ban of tanker traffic along British Columbia’s North Coast.
Mr. Trudeau heaped praise on Premier Rachel Notley for Alberta’s flagship climate change policy, which includes a price on carbon, the elimination coal-fired power plants, a cap on carbon emissions, and significant investments in renewables, as a central reason for the pipeline approval.
“Alberta’s Climate Plan is a vital contributor to our national strategy,” Mr. Trudeau said. “This would not be possible without the leadership of the Notley government,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau basically said everything but “Hey Alberta, Rachel Notley is the reason you got a pipeline.”
“It has been a long, dark night for the people of Alberta… Today we are finally seeing some morning light,” Ms. Notley said in a statement released from Ottawa this afternoon. That morning light could help drive up the Alberta NDP’s support in the polls, which has dwindled over their first 18 months in office.
The pipeline approval is a big political win for Ms. Notley’s government as it deals with an economic downturn caused by the low international price of oil. Her conservative critics have attacked her for not being a more vocal cheerleader for pipelines, but it appears a strategy of quiet climate change diplomacy with Ottawa may have been more effective.
It is odd that after years of hearing pro-pipeline rhetoric from Conservative political leaders about the need for more privately-owned and operated pipelines, it was an NDP Premier and a Liberal Prime Minister who secured their approval.
Interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose criticized the government for not approving Northern Gateway, saying it cost the creation of 4,000 jobs, and claimed that Mr. Trudeau does not have enough political capital to make the Trans-Mountain project a reality.
While the pipeline has been approved on paper, it has not been built yet. The Kinder Morgan website projected a September 2017 start of construction.
While visiting B.C. last September, I picked up a copy of Burnaby Now, a major newspaper in the City of Burnaby. Reported on the front page was a story about a charity-run style event against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. In the same newspaper, an editorial cartoon lambasted BC NDP leader John Horgan for his then-indecisive position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline (he is now against it).
As an Albertan, I was unaccustomed to seeing positive mainstream media coverage of a pipeline protest. Editorial views in Alberta’s mostly-Postmedia owned newspapers are typically boiled down to ‘NDP bad, pipelines good.’
But the view in Burnaby was different, literally.
Unlike Alberta, where oil and gas is a large employer and many large oil projects are hidden from public view in the far north, the Kinder Morgan pipeline staging area is clearly visible on the side of Burnaby Mountain near Simon Fraser University. It is a powerful symbol.
If you believe that carbon emissions are a key cause of climate change, it makes sense that you would oppose the expansion of a permanent piece of infrastructure to transport oil. But stopping the Trans Mountain pipeline will not stop the development of Canada’s oil industry. Oil will continue to be shipped by truck or by rail but the policies included in the Climate Leadership Plan may lead to reduced carbon emissions.
With a provincial election in BC scheduled for early next year, expect the pipeline debate to take a central role in the campaign.
But in the meantime, Ms. Notley and Mr. Trudeau can enjoy their political victory.
The symbolism of today’s announcement is great, because Mr. Trudeau’s father was the great antagonist to western Canadian interests, and because it affirms the national direction on carbon pricing in the climate change policy debate.
As a friend and frequent observer of Alberta politics pointed out today, this might be the most politically significant pro-western decision made by a non-conservative Prime Minister in modern Canadian history.
Trump advisor coming to Alberta
The same group hosted American anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist at a closed door reception in Calgary last November.