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Trans Mountain ruling looks like a win for Alberta -- as the world drives away in electric vehicles

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TMX moves ahead while the rest of the world electrifies. Image: Facebook

You win some, you lose some.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney won one yesterday with the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal to strike down a challenge by a group of four British Columbia First Nations and allow the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to take another lurching step toward completion.

The 3-0 ruling was widely expected by legal authorities, thanks to the efforts of the Trudeau cabinet to follow the consultation blueprint set out in an earlier court decision for completing major projects with significant First Nations opposition.

And as federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan told reporters outside the House of Commons in Ottawa, the decision shows that "if consultations are meaningful and in good faith, and you roll up your sleeves and you do the work, and listen and allow those conversations to affect what you do, and to make sure that you do it the right way, you can get stuff done."

That's because, the court in effect ruled, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band and Sto:lo First Nations of the Fraser Valley had a right to fulsome consultation, but didn't have a veto over projects deemed to be in the national interest by the federal cabinet.

Kenney will naturally try to take credit for the ruling of the court, although he and his United Conservative Party government had precious little to do with it, and consistently advocated an arbitrary approach the court would have rejected.

Whether the Alberta premier continues to try to pretend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is just trying to throw roadblocks in the way of Alberta's ambitions remains to be seen. Yesterday in Montreal, where he must have known it had the potential to stir up trouble for the PM, Kenney slyly praised Trudeau. "I think this government understands there has to be … a balance between economic growth and environmental responsibility," he said.

Albertans who accept the contentious notion access to seawater will help the province get a higher price for its bitumen will be cheered by a decision bringing the day closer when the amount of the stuff shipped from the Athabasca oilsands to the West Coast can triple.

This group includes former NDP premier Rachel Notley, who argued the Trans Mountain expansion owes its success to the exertions of her government and its co-operation with Trudeau's Liberals -- which is certainly true, although unlikely to win her many friends here in wild rose country.

The First Nations leaders who brought the legal action vowed to press on to the Supreme Court of Canada, although it is far from clear they will be able to do so, and unlikely if they do get leave to appeal they will be able to prevail.

Meanwhile, however, across the pond in blighty, Kenney and his supporters lost one -- although the impact of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to only wait 15 more years before imposing a ban on the sale of new fossil-fuel-powered automobiles, including hybrids, may have been missed amid the celebrations in Alberta Conservative circles.

No one here should imagine Brexit is going to change this, since Johnson made his announcement three days after Kenney tweeted his congratulations to the people of the (dis)United Kingdom for "officially regaining their independence" from the European Union. 

It would seem, to borrow the words of Kenney's Brexit-vote-night tweet back in 2016, that the U.K.'s decision to choose "hope over fear by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world," didn't necessarily mean the world in question included Alberta and its oilsands.

Yesterday's "BoJovian" announcement, which shortened the time till the ban takes effect by five years, was timed to coincide with the launch of the United Nations' COP26 this fall in Glasgow, the Associated Press said. Scotland will presumably still be part of the U.K. then.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no stories today attacking Johnson on the Alberta "war room" website, which featured instead a defence of the Teck Frontier oilsands mine proposal, a cheerful yarn about wood bison happily grazing atop a former oilsands mine site, and lots of stale copy.

Alas for Alberta, as NBC News pointed out in its coverage of Johnson's post-Brexit petrol ban, "the U.K. isn't alone in its efforts."

"More than a dozen countries around the world have announced plans to crack down on new sales of gas and diesel vehicles in the next decade or two. France plans to ban the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars by 2040 and Norway's Parliament has set a non-binding goal that by 2025 all cars should be zero emissions."

Which is part of the reason why, given the iron law of supply and demand, that building new pipelines from Alberta to the sea is no guarantee that theoretical access to global markets will increase the price fetched by Alberta bitumen.

Kenney and his supporters can take comfort, though, that the world will likely still need some Alberta bitumen -- to repair the roads on which all those electric vehicles will go whizzing around.

Here endeth the lesson.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Facebook

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