Federal ministers will have to answer this fall for billions of taxpayer dollars poured into and propping up the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

NDP MP Charlie Angus joined forces with opposition MPs in the Natural Resources Committee to get federal ministers to answer their questions about the $34.2-billion project shortly after the government greenlit another loan guarantee — for a total of $19 billion — intended to ensure Trans Mountain Corp. can get financing.

Although Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland pledged not to spend any more public funds on the already over-budget pipeline, the federal government has issued these loan guarantees to convince banks to finance the project — effectively promising that if Trans Mountain can’t pay back the loan, taxpayers will foot the bill. The price tag was an estimated $7.3 billion in 2018 when the federal government purchased the pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.

After years of delay and cost increases, TMX is complete. The project nearly triples Trans Mountain’s shipping capacity to 890,000 barrels per day.

Angus and opposition MPs wanted to question Freeland, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux and the Canada Energy Regulator before parliament’s summer break, but it was delayed so MPs could instead grill oil and gas executives about their halfhearted decarbonization work.

The TMX study will begin in mid-September when the House of Commons reconvenes. Angus hopes that won’t be too late.

“My only concern is that we know there's going to be a serious attempt by the Liberals to cut some kind of backroom deal to create some kind of front company to take over TMX, and I really hope that doesn't happen in the summer, because we need to know: What are Canadians going to be stuck with in terms of subsidizing this boondoggle?,” said Angus in a phone interview with Canada’s National Observer.

The federal government intends to sell TMX and offload at least partial ownership to Indigenous groups, but no details have been released thus far. Budget 2024 included a $5-billion loan guarantee program to help Indigenous groups invest in natural resource projects in a variety of sectors, including oil and gas.

The federal government made sure “money was no object” for TMX and prioritized it over promises to develop a clean energy economy and reduce emissions, said Angus. Along with the $19-billion loan guarantees, Trans Mountain has borrowed $17 billion from the federal government and interest accrues every year.

Federal ministers including Chrystia Freeland will testify at the Natural Resources committee this fall for MPs seeking answers and accountability on the vastly overbudget #TMX #cdnpoli #ClimateChange

“I felt it was really super necessary to push for this study, because I think the Liberal government has lied to the Canadian people in a significant way,” said Angus. One of Justin Trudeau’s earliest election pledges — dating back to the 2015 election — was to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Many Bloc Québécois, Green Party and NDP MPs say TMX is a massive fossil fuel subsidy because billions of public dollars have been sunk into a project that helps expand Canadian oil production.

“What we are facing is potentially the largest-ever subsidy … to the oil and gas sector,” said Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, in an interview with Canada’s National Observer.

Finance Canada did not answer Canada’s National Observer’s questions about the newest loan guarantee. Instead, the emailed statement said TMX is “an important investment in Canada’s economy.”

Kung said a public inquiry or process is needed to look into both the management of taxpayer money and how Canada’s regulatory system allowed this situation to materialize. Multiple analyses predict the federal government will have to write off most of Trans Mountain’s debt because the tolls it will collect won’t be enough to pay off TMX’s huge price tag.

The TMX study is needed to “shine a light on the impact that it's going to have long term, for decades to come, on the greenhouse gas emissions from Canada and the continual investment in a dirty oil industry,” said Angus.

The federal government says it is serious about capping oil and gas sector emissions, but “TMX drives a stake through the heart of that promise,” said Angus. The committee would study how TMX will affect Canada’s climate targets, seek answers on how costs spun out of control and federal government plans to offload the project.

“All I can say, as a taxpayer and someone concerned about our climate, after the hottest year on record and record profits for banks like RBC … I'm speechless that our Finance Minister dithers and delays on putting in regulations that would advance climate actions by corporations and banks, but can quickly sign off on another billion dollars of taxpayer money to back an over-budget, risky, climate pollution emitting tar sands pipeline,” said Richard Brooks, climate finance director Stand.earth, in a written statement to Canada’s National Observer.

“It's disappointing and a disgrace."

— With files from John Woodside

Natasha Bulowski / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

Keep reading

Um, why now? Why not in 2018, when the boondoggle of buying a $450M pipeline for $5B was already plain to see? Or after the 2019 federal election, when it became obvious that trying to woo Alberta with taxpayer money was futile (the Trudeau name, linked to the NEP, will be dirt for generations).
And where is PP on this? Fiscally responsible... Yeah, right.
The federal government is a well oiled machine.

Totally agree! The only reason Pierre "the snake oil salesman" Poilievre has been silent, is the fact their biggest corrupt donor is the oil & gas industry. Should PP get elected, you will see environmental protections eroded, and likely more tax payers dollars spent on our dirty tar sands in the way of more subsidies. Climate change mitigation will be a passing thought, given that the CPC won't even recognise climate change is real.

PP will do a lot more than that. We must prepare ourselves for a demolition crew of ideological incompetents with high explosives should the justified rejection of the Trudeau Lib's hypocrisy force the party to reach the bottom of the lake. It's descent is already nearly complete.

Good question, why now and not then?
Public inquiries DO seem to be very much in vogue now courtesy of the rabid Convoy Party of Canada, faithful underminers-in-chief of government generally, its institutions specifically, and ultimately democracy itself, all successfully spearheaded by the unprecedentedly avid and irrational vilification of Justin Trudeau.
It's SO ubiquitous and accepted now that he's automatically lumped in with 81 year old Joe Biden's circumstances, the resulting din/feeding frenzy deliberately distracting everyone yet again from the emboldened, creeping fascism breathing down all of our necks.
So high-minded, (and possibly legacy-minded) and worthy though Charlie Angus is, where is his perspective here? How is he not given pause by his conservative co-petitioners when they're dangerous saboteurs of what matters most? It just isn't the usual non-partisan collaboration with colleagues on dangerous "emissions" when they're the Convoy Party of Canada, unabashed deniers of climate change, are primarily concerned with "owning the libs" anyway and anyhow.
Not to mention assuming knee-jerk that the Liberals have "lied," taking no note of shoring up Rachel Notley politically at the time against the conservative juggernaut, or how much the climate around climate change has changed since then.

TMX was a disaster from the word «go»; a financial disaster as well as an environmental disaster. Taxpayers were forces to pay over 30 billions in order to produce more tar sands petroleum. That means a lot of GHG, even if scope 3 emissions (exhaust fumes produced in a foreign country!) are not counted in Canada's tally of greenhouses gases!

In this country we have two major federal parties that are beholden to Big Oil.

The Liberals build a major pipeline and issue massive subsidies every year for Big Oil, while concurrently mouthing platitudes about climate change but distribute peanuts to fight it. However, they have done some good on the social side of the equation and saved our bacon during the pandemic, which continues to haunt us.

The Conservatives have promised to build pipelines to the four cardinal directions while decimating every policy on environmental protection that exists, then to take a chainsaw to social programs and justice. And they have swarms of increasingly angry and deluded voters backing them up.

The smaller parties are too weak to do anything about this situation, except prop up the lesser of two evils.

The above presents a difficult challenge to progressive and centrist voters in swing ridings.

The adage, "The will of the people" means nothing for the common good when so many voters blow with the wind and don't bother trying to understand the issues. But that doesn't fully explain why so many youth are willing to throw away their vote to the Conservatives that pose as tyrants without brains and pretend that "strength" manifest as rage is a workable governing alternative to the Lib's weakness and two-faced narrarive.

There is the possibility that mass delusion mainly among our youth and Boomers will lead to a semi-fascist and incompetent Poilievre government just as Trump, Pierre Poilievre's hero, is ressurected next door with untold legal power to do anything, and as militant right wing nationalism rises higher in European democracies.

Dark clouds are gathering.

Kudos to MP Charlie Angus, et. al. They give hope to those of us anxious to stop fossil foolishness. Better late than never.

We're going to miss Mr. Angus very much as he plans to retire when the next election happens.