Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should immediately appoint a “special representative,” enact an emergency law and launch a Supreme Court appeal to push the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline through to construction, says the leader of the Opposition.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer unveiled his proposed fix for the troubled project on Monday in Ottawa. He listed a series of actions he would take today if he were in Trudeau’s shoes.
Scheer’s announcement comes on the heels of new marching orders issued by the Trudeau Liberals last Friday from the G7 meetings in Halifax, and the promise of more announcements to come.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Sept. 21 that the government has given the National Energy Board (NEB) 22 weeks to reconsider its recommendations for Trans Mountain, and come up with a new report. He also said the government would appoint a "special marine technical advisor" to the NEB, among other steps.
On Monday, Scheer rejected those steps as insufficient.
“Instead of taking action, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals announced on Friday just more delays and more uncertainty,” Scheer argued at a press conference Sept. 24 inside the National Press Building in Ottawa.
“We don’t have a construction timeline yet. We have no deadline for the end of work, and no assurances for the thousands of jobs that this project represents.”
In August, a Federal Court of Appeal ruling halted construction of the Alberta-to-B.C. Trans Mountain expansion, after concluding that Trudeau’s cabinet approved the pipeline project without considering all evidence and failed in its legal duty to consult First Nations.
Scheer: People protest ‘everything all the time’
The Opposition leader said Trudeau should instead “appoint a ministerial special representative” to complete the Indigenous consultation process quickly. He said this would demonstrate the government’s “good-faith effort” to seeing those consultations through.
“There are people protesting everything all the time. We don’t cancel everything because of that," says Conservative Leader @AndrewScheer on #TMX. #cdnpoli #bcpoli #abpoli
The government should also “enact emergency legislation,” he said, so that the NEB doesn’t need to “duplicate” the analysis of oil tanker traffic and the risks of environmental disaster — an analysis he said had been already undertaken by federal government bureaucrats.
The court ruling found that the NEB made a “critical error” when it excluded oil tanker traffic in the scope of its project. The court said that sparked a chain reaction of “unacceptable deficiencies" that tainted the NEB’s final report.
Scheer also said Trudeau should appeal that court ruling to the Supreme Court.
Finally, he said Trudeau should support Bill S-245, sponsored by independent Sen. Douglas Black, which would declare the pipeline project "to be for the general advantage of Canada." That bill has passed the Senate and is now at first reading in the House of Commons.
“We would like to see a fixed timeline,” said Scheer. “I believe this would very quickly accelerate the process.”
The Trans Mountain expansion, if completed, would triple the capacity of the existing line, shipping up to 890,000 barrels of bitumen and other petroleum products per day from Alberta’s oilpatch to a marine terminal in Metro Vancouver. The project has been the subject of relentless protests and high-profile arrests for months. Hundreds of people were arrested at the site of the west coast terminal earlier this year.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Coldwater Indian Band, Squamish Nation and other Indigenous communities, environmentalists and some municipalities say the project poses an unacceptable risk to species at risk, and land and water ecosystems.
Asked what he thought of the prospect of mass arrests and heavy protests if the government pushes ahead with an accelerated implementation plan for the pipeline, Scheer dismissed such rhetoric as fear-mongering.
“I know people like to conjure up images of that kind of consultation — the people we’re concerned about are the thousands of Indigenous Canadians who want to see this project built,” he said.
“There are people protesting everything all the time. We don’t cancel everything because of that.”
Tsleil-Waututh: Dialogue will outlast 22 weeks
Last Friday, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in B.C. welcomed the federal government’s "recognition” that marine shipping should have been included in the NEB's assessment. But it also questioned the Trudeau government's new plan to move the project forward.
In a press statement, the community said it anticipated that more review and two-way dialogue, as mandated by the court, "will take more than 22 weeks." It also said any plan for additional review "must be developed in collaboration with the Nation."
“That is only one part that we are moving forward on today, and within a very short amount of time, we will be announcing the other aspects of the plan,” Sohi said in response to questions from National Observer about the Tsleil-Waututh’s assertion that 22 weeks is not enough.
“There’s no relationship that's more important to our government than the relationship with Indigenous peoples,” he said. “We will, as we roll out the plan in the coming days, be able to be in a better position to (explain) how we’re going to proceed.”
The minister also said there were “provisions and opportunities” in the new NEB review for Indigenous peoples to be involved in “commenting on the scope of the review.”
On Monday, asked about how he can be confident that consultations can be done expeditiously, Scheer said “the duty to consult is very clear. It means concerns have to be addressed, and addressing those concerns can take a variety of options.”
“When the process is properly executed, and the science is clear and the evidence is clear, we have to live in a country” where big projects can get built, he said.