The B.C. NDP government has launched its last wobbly missile against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, a court reference that pleads for authority to add another layer of permit paper and conditions to the twinned line.
As Premier John Horgan was announcing the proposed regulations his lawyers sent to the B.C. Court of Appeal, the federal government was preparing to shoot down B.C.’s paper projectile before it can do any further harm to Canada’s reputation as a functional country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated that his government will move to strengthen its hand on the interprovincial pipeline, probably by formally declaring it in the national interest. There is also a financial move in the works to strengthen the viability of the project, but it’s not likely the full or partial government takeover suggested by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
More likely would be equity stakes in the project by the dozens of Indigenous communities that already have benefits agreements.
Kinder Morgan Canada, owner of Trans Mountain, declined to respond to my question on equity positions in the project. A spokesperson confirmed there are 43 benefits agreements with Indigenous communities, mostly in B.C. Community leaders are free to speak about the agreements if they wish, and some have.
They include participation in a pipeline welding course at Seabird College in Agassiz. Students from Haida Gwaii, Bella Coola, Canim Lake, Boston Bar, Lytton, Hope, Mount Currie and around the Fraser Valley are taking part in this highly technical Red Seal apprenticeship course.
I spoke with Cheam Chief Ernie Crey, whose community worked two years for a Trans Mountain benefit agreement. He said he has not yet discussed equity shares with Ottawa, but the concept is appealing. These days community consultation is extensive for projects like this, but once a deal is done, he said the information tends to taper off.
“I think First Nations would be ahead of the game if they had equity positions,” Crey said.
Crey jolted the long argument led by high-profile protesters with his recent comments in favour of Trans Mountain, where he warned of “red washing” by outside protest groups who recruit dissident Indigenous people to front for them.
Like many others, he’s rethinking pipeline risks with the knowledge that heavy oil is increasingly taking the rail option. That means more and longer trains on the cliff-hugging Fraser Canyon route, which also carries tank cars of caustic soda and other industrial chemicals that make crude oil seem mild.
The career protesters and their political supporters keep reciting their lines about a “seven-fold” increase in tanker traffic on the B.C. coast, a statistic that is so distorted as to be flat-out false.
One day last week there were seven oil tankers in the ocean immediately around Victoria, all heading to American ports in Alaska, Washington and California. Most of the B.C.-bound marine traffic is bulk freighters loaded with products such as coal or grain, fuel barges, ferries and so forth. Additional crude shipments from Trans Mountain’s Westridge terminal would add six per cent to the existing ship traffic that stops in B.C.
As Horgan and Attorney General David Eby were announcing their last-ditch legal challenge, federal Environment Minister Catharine McKenna invited B.C. to join a federal-provincial study on heavy oil spill risk.
Horgan and B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman frequently cite “gaps” in spill response and science. They must be aware that Kinder Morgan is a major funder of additional spill response bases on the B.C. coast, projects that are on hold as shipping traffic continues.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org