British Columbia has announced it will head to court by month end to clarify the province’s jurisdiction over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
Also Wednesday, the CEO of the pipeline’s builder, Kinder Morgan said the events of recent days have reinforced his concerns about the viability of the $7.4-billion project.
Steve Kean said during an earnings report that the company suspended work on non-essential activities earlier this month because the investment may be “untenable for a private party to undertake,” and recent days have “confirmed” those views.
The construction project has been the subject of growing friction, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau summoning the premiers of Alberta and B.C. to Ottawa for talks and Alberta introducing legislation designed to restrict fuel shipments to B.C.
Kinder Morgan set a May 31 deadline to determine if the expansion will go ahead, prompting Trudeau’s Liberals to start private, financial talks with the U.S.-based company.
Premier John Horgan said his New Democrat government’s reference case will be filed in B.C.’s Court of Appeal by April 30 and it will seek to clarify the province’s rights to protect its coast and economy from an oil products spill.
He said the reference case could have implications in provincial-federal relations that go beyond the current dispute.
“We believe we have jurisdiction to protect the interests of British Columbians,” Horgan said at a news conference to announce government housing development initiatives.
“Our neighbouring province disagrees with that, the federal government disagrees with that,” he said. “In my conversations with the prime minister over the weekend he said, ‘Why can’t we work this out now? ‘ I said, ‘That’s fine, you and I can work this out but what about the next government in Ottawa or the next government in Victoria and on and on and on?’ “
Horgan also raised concerns about Indigenous rights over the project. More than 30 First Nations along the pipeline route have agreements with the company, but others are in opposition.
“I just reject the notion that this is a majority-rule situation,” he said. “These are rights and title holders and those rights and title holders have to be acknowledged and have to be respected.”
Jim Carr, federal Natural Resources Minister, said the government in Ottawa is looking to introduce legislation to reassert Canada’s constitutional authority to build and expand pipelines.
The federal government has repeatedly rejected B.C.’s invitations to join the reference case, saying it already has authority over pipelines.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said Wednesday the province believes it has the right to protect its environment and economy from an oil products spill.
“The process is about B.C.’s right under the Constitution to regulate against the deleterious impacts on the environment, on the economy, on provincial interests of a project, whether it’s an interprovincial project or a provincial project.”
Attorney General David Eby said the province will take its case to the B.C. Court of Appeal, the highest court that it is able to refer such questions under the province’s Constitutional Question Act.
The details of the action and the question or questions the government will ask the court to determine are still being worked out by lawyers and must be approved by the New Democrat government’s cabinet, he said.
Eby said the province is aware of the time factors involved and is hopeful of a speedy ruling.
“Everybody wants clarity around this so we’ll be moving and we are moving as quickly as we can,” he said.
Alberta’s government said B.C.’s legal move is just another pipeline roadblock.
Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said the law around the issue has already been settled and that it’s clear the federal government has the final say on interprovincial pipelines.
“They (the B.C. government) continue to play political games,” she said.
“They continue to try to frustrate investors (and) erode investor confidence, but what I can say is we are prepared to pull the rug out from under them.”
She said the rug allusion refers to ongoing talks with Alberta and the federal government to buy into the pipeline project to ensure it gets completed.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said his province is preparing to introduce oil restriction legislation similar to Alberta’s, which is likely to send fuel prices in B.C. sky high.
The Canadian Press