There’s no punch to Trudeau’s pipeline pledge. He needs to put the gloves on

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was serious about supporting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, he’d act with the urgency Canada’s pipeline crisis deserves, not parrot promises no one believes he will keep.

During a stop in Edmonton Thursday, amid rising tensions between Alberta and British Columbia over the long-delayed project, Trudeau said the $7.4 billion expansion would get built and that the federal government would stand by its decision to approve it.

“It’s important to get our oil resources to markets other than the United States for the Alberta economy, for the Canadian economy to continue to grow and we need to do that safely,” the Prime Minister said on an Edmonton radio station.

There is no deadline to keep that promise, and the project could run out of money before Trudeau delivers

Here’s the problem: That promise has no credibility because there have been zero consequences for undermining it, as B.C.’s NDP/Green government keeps doing. The province’s most provocative move came this week when it announced a plan to restrict transportation of bitumen until there are further studies on its behaviour in a spill, effectively giving itself power over the expansion — even if it has no jurisdiction and it’s been federally approved.

Here’s the other problem: There is no deadline to keep that promise, and the project could run out of money before Trudeau delivers.

The range and severity of options being proposed in retaliation to B.C.’s latest move should be a wake-up call for Trudeau. Canada’s pipeline disaster is deteriorating into a national unity crisis in addition to a financial one, because Canada’s land-locked oil is deeply discounted, resulting in lost revenue, taxes and royalties in the tens of millions of dollars a day.

We need to get the attention of ordinary British Columbians. If their government is launching a trade war, it will have consequences for everyone.

Jason Kenney, leader, Alberta’s opposition United Conservative Party

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said this week she is considering a range of economic and legal options in response to B.C.’s proposals, and on Thursday suspended the interprovincial trade talks over the purchase of electricity from B.C. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he supports her.

Jason Kenney, the former federal cabinet minister who now leads Alberta’s opposition United Conservative Party, said it’s time to up the ante, including blocking Alberta oil exports to B.C. and putting tolls on B.C. gas flowing through Alberta to the U.S. Turning off the oil taps would be a last resort among a range of measures, but Kenney said he is proposing it to get people’s attention.

As ugly as the prospect is of denying B.C. oil from Alberta, it has wide support among Albertans, who feel that that day should come sooner rather than later for B.C. Some even talk of boycotts of B.C. wines and of B.C. holidays.

Alberta oil transported on the Trans Mountain pipeline supplies much of B.C.’s fuel, including aviation fuel for Vancouver International Airport.

“Imagine some intermittent withholding of supply, what that would do to retail gas prices in the Lower Mainland, that are already $1.80 a litre,” Kenney said in an interview. “We need to get the attention of ordinary British Columbians. If their government is launching a trade war, it will have consequences for everyone.”

Alberta could also go to court to challenge B.C.’s proposed regulations, suspend the carbon tax or at least withhold increases until Alberta oil is flowing, file a complaint under the New West Partnership trade deal, or end contracts to purchase power from BC Hydro, Kenney said.

“If you are in a trade war with a protagonist who is threatening to block the shipment of your most important product, you don’t address that through passivity and surrender,” Kenney said.

Trudeau’s handling of the file shows he doesn’t understand that regulation of interprovincial pipelines is exclusive federal jurisdiction and what the B.C. government has threatened to do is a direct attack on the Constitution, Kenney said.

“This is not just about the Kinder Morgan project,” he said. “This is about whether Canada is an economic union. This is about whether our constitution means something, or whether we are just 10 balkanized governments that can arbitrarily violate the free movement of goods across the country.”

Calgary lawyer Rick Gilborn said Trudeau could put a quick end to B.C.’s stunts by calling on Parliament to declare the Trans Mountain pipeline and the products it carries to be a work for the general advantage of Canada, and suspend all provincial and municipal regulatory or statutory hurdles, a power it has under section 92(10)(c) of the Constitution Act.

“This is an existential moment for Confederation,” Gilborn said. “If Trudeau and the Liberals continue their passive-aggressive approach to Alberta, Saskatchewan and the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the energy sector and allows B.C. to carry on this way, forcing more expensive and time-wasting litigation, then there is no purpose to Confederation.”

The step should have been taken long ago for all the major pipeline projects and former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper shares in the blame for failing to do so, but Trudeau and the Liberals are in charge now and extreme circumstances call for extreme measures, he said.

“I lived through the destruction wrought by Trudeau senior’s National Energy Program,” Gilborn said. “This is worse, times ten.”

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