Sohi Makes No Promises as Liberals Weigh Delaying Trans Mountain Pipeline Reapproval
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi says there is no guarantee the federal cabinet will reapprove the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion ahead of the federal election this fall, and a national columnist reports Ottawa is getting serious about holding up the project if incoming Alberta premier Jason Kenney rescinds his province’s promise to cap carbon pollution from the tar sands/oil sands.
“I’m very confident that by June 18, cabinet will be able to make a decision on this project,” Sohi told media last Thursday in Calgary. But he added that it was beyond his authority to guarantee it.
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“No, I cannot commit to that because it’s not my decision. It’s the decision of the cabinet,” he said. “What I can commit to is that we will follow the process, we will continue to engage Indigenous communities in a meaningful two-way dialogue to ensure that our constitutional obligation is met.”
But while Sohi maintained he looked forward to working with Kenney’s new United Conservative Party government in Alberta, National Post columnist John Ivison said the federal government is considering other options.
“Sources suggest the Trudeau government is actively considering the idea of blocking the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which the federal government owns, if Kenney’s Alberta government overturns a pledge by its predecessor to cap carbon emissions from the oilsands at 100 megatons a year,” Ivison writes. “The logic is that if there is no climate change plan, there can be no more pipelines—a commitment that would likely play well in British Columbia and Quebec, where the Liberals believe they can pick up seats in the October election.”
While Finance Minister Bill Morneau is dismissing the idea that Ottawa won’t build the pipeline as “an absurd proposition”, former Liberal national director Jamie Carroll floated that very prospect in an opinion piece last week.
“It was absolutely clear from both Trudeau and Notley that Alberta’s carbon tax was the quid pro quo for Trudeau’s commitment to a new or expanded pipeline,” he wrote. So “why wouldn’t Trudeau proudly stand in Vancouver and tell British Columbians when Kenney axes the carbon tax that Alberta has broken its word and therefore he is not keeping his? Conveniently, Kenney has already said the deal is off during media rounds (here, for example).”
Carroll sees several electoral advantages in adopting that strategy rather than selling off the pipeline, which “was an expensive purchase and currently turns a profit”.
“Not only would this significantly help Trudeau’s Liberals hold progressive voters across the country from toying with the NDP, it would give them a definitive wedge issue with Conservatives in what will be their two most critical electoral regions. Stealing NDP seats in B.C. and Quebec is almost certainly the only chance Trudeau has for gains and/or replacement of seats he will likely lose elsewhere.”
So “while this is far from the ‘sunny ways’ approach Trudeau followed in 2015, were I providing the PM with advice, this is what I would be suggesting without hesitation,” the Liberal strategist concludes. “But is Justin Trudeau prepared to do what is necessary in order to win his government a second term?”