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Jason Kenney criticizes federal judges on Trans Mountain pipeline case

Alberta’s Opposition Leader says the federal judges who overturned approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are out of touch with the real world.

“They keep moving the goalposts on what is required,” Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservatives, said in Calgary Thursday. “This is what is creating massive investor uncertainty.

“I think (judges) sometimes they write these decisions in an academic bubble not realizing the real-world consequences.”

The Federal Court of Appeal overturned Ottawa’s approval of the pipeline, which would have doubled the line from Edmonton to the B.C. coast and tripled the amount of oil shipped to fetch a better price on overseas markets.

The panel of three judges cited lack of consultation with Indigenous groups and a failure to address the impact on marine traffic.

Kenney said the National Energy Board made it clear it did not have regulatory responsibility over marine traffic in its review of Trans Mountain.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was to comment later Thursday.

RELATED: Notley pulling Alberta out of federal climate plan after pipeline decision

Trudeau said on Twitter he spoke with Notley on Thursday and “reassured her that the federal government stands by the TMX expansion project and will ensure it moves forward in the right way.”

Kenney said Notley has not helped matters by prematurely celebrating the construction of the pipeline while imposing a carbon tax in the mistaken belief it would provide so-called “social licence” that would persuade environmental opponents to stand down.

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel also said Notley was guilty of premature celebration after Trudeau’s government announced in May that it would buy Trans Mountain to ensure it got built.

“There was an incredible smugness about how this was going to go ahead,” said Mandel. “That just shows the naivete of what really happens in politics and nothing is for sure.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and his Calgary counterpart Naheed Nenshi said they were disappointed with the court’s decision.

“This pipeline is a critical piece of infrastructure for our nation and it will provide important benefits from coast to coast,” Nenshi said in a statement.

The Trans Mountain line has dominated Alberta politics in the last year and it, along with everything it represents — including Alberta’s carbon tax — is expected to overshadow all other issues in the spring election.

Notley has said Alberta’s commitment to environmental stewardship — expressed through its carbon tax, commitment to phase out coal-fired electricity along with other green initiatives — allowed Trudeau’s government to follow through on its commitment to get the line built.

To that end, the federal government bought the line for $4.5 billion when owner Kinder Morgan Canada wavered this spring.

The pipeline is also a financial lifeline for Notley’s government, which has been running multibillion-dollar deficits while avoiding introducing a sales tax or making significant cuts to the budget.

The province has budgeted for increased pipeline access to drive non-renewable resource revenue to more than double to $10.4 billion by 2024 to balance the budget.

Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said the ruling is a setback for the political fortunes of the NDP, which has been trailing the United Conservatives in opinion polls.

“This will certainly build into the narrative from the Conservatives that the idea of social licence, which was part of the NDP push on the issue, has not borne fruit,” said Mensah of MacEwan University in Edmonton.

RELATED: B.C. First Nations hail court’s quash of Kinder Morgan pipeline approval

Political scientist Duane Bratt said that while Notley cannot be faulted for the court decision, it’s still a political victory for Kenney.

“This is a major blow for Notley,” said Bratt, with Mount Royal University in Calgary.

He said Notley not only needs the pipeline, but needs substantial progress on it in time for the election campaign — something that now appears unlikely.

“Whether (the federal government) appeals to the Supreme Court or whether they simply do the modifications recommended by the Federal Court of Appeal, both of those take time,” said Bratt.

“And Notley’s out of time.”

The Canadian Press

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