Trudeau government woefully miscalculates support for Kinder Morgan pipeline

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Justin Trudeau should not expect to see a lot of $99 Liberal Party of Canada toques or $199 scarves being worn in metro Vancouver this winter.

Last week, the Trudeau government approved doubling the Kinder Morgan pipeline from Alberta. The Trans Mountain expansion proposes a 700 per cent increase in ocean tanker traffic through the port of Vancouver and an expanded diluted bitumen (dilbit) storage facility (tank farm) in the city of Burnaby, both in Tsleil-Waututh territory at Burrard Inlet.

The tank farm sits on a known earthquake zone, and poses a fire hazard that has the Burnaby fire department raising concerns about public safety.

The menace of an oil spill from new Texas-bound tankers has nature-loving British Columbians rising up in opposition to expanded ocean traffic along the coast, that, amongst other environmental threats, endangers the killer whale population, the iconic Orcas.  

Add in concern about the impact of increased pipeline capacity on climate change and the ability to meet Canadian targets under the Paris Accord, and the sun is going down on Liberal popularity on the West Coast.

The federal government has done more than endanger British Columbia Liberal MPs' re-election chances.

The activist Dogwood Initiative wants a province-wide vote on Trans Mountain, and is collecting signatures needed to provoke such a "citizens' initiative" under B.C. government legislation

In opposition to Texas-based Kinder Morgan, business and Indigenous leaders have united with property owners and indebted students, renegade Liberals, Green Party, and New Democrat supporters in an unlikely alliance that promises to upend B.C. politics, just as the B.C. Liberal government of Christy Clark prepare for a spring election.

The Trudeau cabinet has judged that Canada-wide support for increased exports from the Alberta bitumen sands overshadows B.C. opposition to shipping dilbit via pipeline to Metro Vancouver, and by tanker through the Burrard Inlet past Stanley Park, and out the Georgia Straight to American refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

The future about to unwind will show Justin Trudeau how wrong his government was to make this calculation.

The Liberal government acknowledged that the Northern Gateway pipeline across Northern B.C. would not get a green light. What the prime minister did not underline was that pipeline project had already been halted in June by a Federal Court judgement.

Ruling against the Northern Gateway pipeline, the Court found the federal government had not sought nor received the consent required from the Indigenous nations on whose ancestral lands the pipeline was to be built.

Derek Leahy reports the Supreme Court of Canada is currently hearing two other cases based on the argument that the Crown must negotiate openly and transparently with Indigenous peoples before approving energy projects on traditional lands.

Look for the failure of the Trudeau Liberals to obtain consent from all the 133 Indigenous nations affected by pipeline expansion (40 have signalled support) to be decisive in however many court battles it takes for B.C. Indigenous Nations to stop the Trans Mountain project.

Local business groups have pointed out the obvious shortcomings with the Metro Vancouver pipeline terminal and ocean tanker expansion. For example, in the event of an accident, "a company's liability is limited to $1.3 billion and a major spill could easily cost 10 times this amount." There have been four oil spills along the Trans Mountain route since 2005.

The profits from expansion go to the former Enron executives who own the Kinder Morgan pipeline, while benefits to government treasuries are meagre. Economist Robyn Allan calculated that in "the five years from 2009-2013 Trans Mountain paid an average of $1.5 million a year in tax, and received a tax refund in two of them."

The Trudeau government that prides itself on not being the Harper Conservatives, base support for Trans Mountain expansion on the Harper government approval process that the now Liberal justice minister pledged to undo in the 2015 election campaign.

Informed analysis from Robyn Allan, Andrew Nikiforuk, and Mike De Souza illuminate the issues the Liberals have ignored in arguing the case for Kinder Morgan. It is hard to read them without thinking that federal B.C. Liberals must be hoping their team loses this one in court, and well before the next election, so memories of the Metro Vancouver pipeline can be gone from public consciousness.

Duncan Cameron is former president of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Kent Lins/flickr

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