Pipeline Roundup: Criminal Charges, Provincial Posturing, Kinder Morgan’s Endgame, and Ottawa Investing in ‘Zombie Infrastructure’
Opinion & Analysis
Over the last two days…
More than two dozen pipeline protesters arrested at Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby Mountain construction site learned Monday they might face criminal charges for their actions. “I signed a paper I was going to be tried by civil contempt and I thought that was okay,” one defendant said after the hearing by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck. “Can they really jump that to criminal? Just like that?” The B.C. Prosecution Service also appointed special prosecutors for criminal contempt proceedings against MPs Elizabeth May (Green-Saanich-Gulf Islands) and Kennedy Stewart (NDP-Burnaby South), who were also arrested at the site.
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Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said her legislation to limit gas shipments to B.C. was no bluff. B.C. Attorney General David Eby said the bill was unconstitutional and threatened legal action. Energy consultant David Hughes said the Alberta action was “a case of politics more than practical realities,” noting that if Alberta “did turn off the supply to B.C., it would hurt Alberta and B.C.’s economies.” Canadian Energy Pipeline Association President Chris Bloomer cautioned that McCuaig-Boyd’s Bill 12 “could have longer-term, unintended consequences for industry and the public at large. We hope that the measures will not need to be implemented.”
B.C. rejected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s contention that the province hasn’t said how it wants federal environmental protections enforced, with an official pointing Canadian Press to a list of six detailed demands the province forwarded to Ottawa in February. A former Alberta energy minister helpfully suggested Trudeau will have to call the troops in to deal with “eco-terrorists” and get the pipeline built.
From across the ocean, The Guardian identified “First Nations facing down a pipeline” as the people who are truly looking out for Canada’s national interest while “Justin Trudeau is bailing out a Texas oil billionaire”. University of Alberta political scientist Laurie Adkin wrote that the true crisis is Trudeau’s failure “to grasp both the nature of Indigenous movements in this country today as well as the depth of the climate change crisis”, political scientist David Moscrop opined that the “intractable slog” of the Kinder Morgan fight “is also democracy in action”, and University of Ottawa constitutional law professor David Robitaille said Ottawa doesn’t get to dictate the rules of the game: the ““first general constitutional principle”, he wrote, citing the Supreme Court of Canada, is that “businesses operating in federal fields must also comply with provincial laws.”
Veteran journalist Susan Delacourt said Trudeau had “de-risked” the possibility of a full-scale pipeline crisis by getting Premiers Rachel Notley of Alberta and John Horgan of B.C. together for Sunday’s face-to-face chat. Another veteran journalist, Andrew Nikiforuk, found the scale of the country’s “petro-inspired nastiness” startling. “The ugly rhetoric pouring forth from Alberta, the media, and federal politicians on Kinder Morgan’s calculated suspension of work on the Trans Mountain pipeline shows that both petro and retro politics have consumed much of the nation,” he wrote. “The siren call of oil exports has also revealed our political class can be as swayed by lies, propaganda, and extortion as any U.S. Republican.”
The Tyee’s Crawford Killian cited investigative journalist Paul McKay’s recent exposé for The Energy Mix (also here and here) as part of his argument that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is dead on arrival, a victim of falling oil prices and relentless international competition. On iPolitics, former fossil executive Ross Belot agreed there’s no international market demand for Alberta bitumen.
“It was truly disgusting in [Monday evening’s] emergency debate that the Conservatives continue to push the party line that the pipeline is necessary, and that good times are coming back to Alberta if it is built,” Belot wrote. In reality, “Alberta makes a high-carbon, high-cost, capital-intensive, heavy barrel of crude in a world where low-cost, quick-payback, higher-quality crude is growing almost exponentially. A new pipeline is not going to change that.”
Meanwhile, Simon Fraser University’s Thomas Gunton and fossil analyst Zachary Rogers of Wood McKenzie began the process of throwing Kinder Morgan under the bus, with Gunton arguing Alberta really doesn’t need so much new export capacity and both suggesting new pipelines to the U.S. will do just fine.
Climate economist Aaron Cosbey and international lawyer Howard Mann urged Ottawa not to put taxpayers on the hook for Trans Mountain. “If billions of dollars of Canadian taxpayer support is to go to any sector, why should it be the fossil fuel sector?” they asked. “This sector already benefits from over C$3 billion a year in public subsidies, an amount that could actually be dwarfed by promises to de-risk this project alone. The point of a good industrial policy is to invest in emerging sectors. Pouring money into zombie-like infrastructure whose days are as numbered as the internal combustion engine is not a future-oriented economic development strategy.”
Corporate Mapping Project analyst Seth Klein warned that Canada is being played. He speculated that the ex-Enron executives who run Kinder Morgan may already have decided to cut their losses and walk away from the project, “and not for the reasons they are telling their shareholders or the public. It may well be that the May 31 deadline is merely for show, and the Texas-based corporation has already determined the project is not feasible both for economic reasons and due to profound Indigenous and popular opposition.”
“Simply put,” Klein added, “and the Prime Minister’s assurances notwithstanding—this pipeline may never be built. And the company may finally have realized it.”
Activist journalist Linda McQuaig concluded that the Kinder Morgan’s ultimatum reveals Ottawa’s climate plan as a sham, and iPolitics columnist Michael Harris asked if anyone can still identify “that guy in Paris saying Canada was back”. In a new Nanos poll, “a majority of respondents say the federal government should have the final say on major national energy projects,” the Globe and Mail reported. “They also support long-term development of the country’s oil and gas sector if it’s done in an environmentally responsible way.”