We’re about 15 years late on the pipeline construction file. Many mistakes, including arrogance and ignorance, have been made by both governments and industry over those intervening years.
Ignorance that environmental concerns could simply be legislated away and arrogance that the oil industry still had the power to bully their way through anyone’s land or territory.
The previous Conservative government failed to deliver the Northern Gateway pipeline even after smoothing the way through legislative changes that weakened both environmental and protection of vulnerable species laws and reduced the time and the number of participants who could speak at National Energy Board (NEB) hearings.
The current federal government reinstated environmental protections, expanded the NEB’s consultation process, committed to a multi-million dollar investment in ocean protection assets and technology and enacted a nation-wide climate change policy to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint, whilst still allowing oil sands development.
The courts gave kudos to the government for doing a lot of things right, but their failings were two-fold.
No analysis was done by the NEB on the impact of increased oil tankers in coastal waters (incomprehensible to this lay person) and the government, although listening to First Nations concerns, didn’t give any consideration on how to accommodate some of their genuine concerns.
Little surprise, the private sector walked away from the project the day the court decision was announced. If it were a Conservative government, the private sector would have likely maintained ownership secured by government interest-free loans, financial backstops and some government equity.
The Liberals chose to become outright owners.
Both financial decisions expose taxpayers to mega risk, but similar calculations have been made by previous governments on other major projects and more often than not, they have had positive economic results over time.
The NEB have been given 22 weeks to do a proper environmental assessment around increased oil tanker traffic in the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca.
We can learn much from the State of Washington.
It has a good track record regulating and enforcing oil tankers in those same waters and have one of the lowest oil-spill rates in the United States. Interestingly, the State of Washington are supporting the B.C. government in its opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline as they see Canada as laggards on spill response readiness and regulations governing oil tanker traffic.
Accommodating the reasonable concerns of First Nations, whose lands and waters are being crossed, must be done.
But be assured the Courts never said that any group of people, including First Nations, have the inherent right to stop a project of national interest.
With patience, there is still reason for optimism that the Trans Mountain pipeline can be successfully completed.
In fact, I would argue it’s absolutely necessary for Canada’s medium-term economic stability.
The last thing we need is another Keystone pipeline tied to discounted American oil prices and a single market. Because of our dithering, we are now in the unenviable position of planning for the future when the future is already here.