Senator calls on Ottawa to send Trans Mountain decision to Supreme Court amid Alberta-B.C. rift
OTTAWA — An independent senator is calling on the government to expedite a decision over the Trans Mountain pipeline to the Supreme Court of Canada, saying escalating tensions in B.C. and Alberta threaten to undo the project before construction begins in earnest.
Calgary-based senator Doug Black called on Ottawa to accelerate a decision on the embattled Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. pipeline, arguing that a failure to do so will allow opponents to continue to delay the project through legal proceedings. The $7.4-billion pipeline is already delayed and is fighting off legal challenges.
“My view is let’s just cut to the chase and get it done,” Black said Monday. “We need to prevent further unnecessary delay to moving the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain project forward.”
The senator’s comments come after he introduced Bill S-245 on Feb. 15 that aims to declare the project is to the general advantage of Canada, which has yet to reach its second reading in the Red Chamber. The bill was seconded by Conservative B.C. senator Richard Neufeld.
Black said on Monday that by referring his bill to the Supreme Court of Canada for an expedited decision, Ottawa could provide final approval to the project in a timely manner and overturn objections from the NDP-Green Party coalition government, environmental groups and some municipalities, which have put severe strain on building timelines for the pipeline.
Tensions over Trans Mountain have risen in recent weeks after the B.C. NDP party, led by premier John Horgan, proposed to halt any shipments of bitumen though the province until a panel could determine whether the heavy oil could be adequately cleaned from waterways in case of a spill.
The move kicked off a trade spat between the two provinces, with Alberta declaring a boycott on B.C. wine sales into the province. The stand-off has since eased after Horgan said the province will refer the issue to the courts.
But the environmentally-minded portion of the NDP-Green Party alliance could still block the pipeline. In an interview with CBC that aired Sunday, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver repeated claims that his party would use “every tool in the toolbox” to delay the pipeline. He said their party’s decision to deescalate the trade war between the two provinces did not mean it would back down on opposing the expansion of the project.
“Rather than argue about it in the media, it’s going to the courts,” he said.
The B.C. government announced last week it would seek a reference from the courts on the case—a move that a spokesperson with Natural Resources Canada said “only serves to illustrate that it knows it does not have constitutional authority over interprovincial pipelines. We declined to join B.C.’s legal strategy because it is groundless.”
Meanwhile, Black’s call to expedite a decision to the Supreme Court is unlikely to be heard, according to Alastair Lucas, a professor at the Canadian Institute of Resources Law in Calgary.
The call for an expedited decision seems more “marketing” than a policy that would actually clear away legal hurdles for the pipeline proponent.
“Frankly I have to wonder what that would achieve.”
Lucas said expedited decisions were used in the past to declare certain infrastructure, including grain elevators, to be in the national interest.
“That power that hasn’t been used in decades,” he said.
Black commended recent comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirming that the pipeline should be built, but argued more concrete action on the project is required.
“Simply saying this pipeline will get built will not get this pipeline built,” he said.
In an interview with the National Observer on Feb. 14, Trudeau accused premier Horgan of attempting to “scuttle our national plan on fighting climate change” by blocking the project.
Environmental groups, and some political parties, have long opposed major pipeline developments in Canada by tying them up in the courts, setting back construction timelines and sapping investor confidence.
“The strategy they’ve landed on is to talk the project to death,” Black said.
Kinder Morgan now says completion of Trans Mountain is delayed by up to a year, with an in-service in December 2020, instead of its initial target in 2019. Those delays were in part caused by the municipality of Burnaby, B.C., which has refused to offer certain construction permits to the company.
Expedited decisions in the Supreme Court are rare, but not without precedent. The last expedited Supreme Court decision was to reject former prime minister Stephen Harper’s call to turn the senate into an elected body in 2014. The court rejected the proposal.
Powered by WPeMatico