Varcoe: Notley says Trans Mountain on one-yard line, but Alberta must get into end zone

Heading into Grey Cup weekend, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion now sits on the one-yard line.

Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson says dirt on the project still hasn’t been turned, fully one year after the company’s pipeline expansion was approved by the Trudeau government.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Alberta’s premier — along with Anderson — will journey to Vancouver next week to pitch British Columbians on the need to get oil pipelines built in this country.

Notley’s cross-country pipeline tour touched down in Calgary on Friday, after hitting Ottawa and Toronto earlier in the week. The trip is trying to build the case for getting Alberta crude to tidewater for export into new markets, such as the Asia-Pacific region.

The speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce hit familiar themes: Western Canadian oil producers must get improved prices for their discounted product and additional pipeline capacity will help.

Completing the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion — which will triple the amount of oil moving to the West Coast — will let the country diversify our markets, instead of shipping virtually all of Canada’s crude exports into the United States.

The energy sector creates thousands of jobs across the country, not just in Alberta, and it allows the province to send almost $22-billion more per year to Ottawa than it gets back in return, Notley argued.

And Alberta’s 100-megatonne cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands means a new pipeline to the Pacific coast will not sidetrack Canada’s climate change promises.

“Despite the fact that Alberta’s energy industry is the cleanest and safest in the world, there are still those who want to stop us from breaking the land lock and diversifying our markets.

“But we’re not going to let them,” the premier told the crowd of about 800, which included Anderson and TransCanada CEO Russ Girling.

“We’ve relentlessly made the case for this pipeline …. As a result we are closer than ever — at the one-yard line, in fact.”

Notley also gave a test run to some of the themes she’ll discuss in Vancouver, such as that the two provinces share deep economic and cultural ties and a respectful dialogue must be held.

The 25-minute speech found a receptive crowd within Calgary’s business community, interrupted by applause 11 times and garnering a standing ovation at the end.

The address next Thursday at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade won’t be so easy.

It will be delivered in the epicentre of anti-pipeline opposition in the lower B.C. mainland. Don’t be surprised if protesters show up outside that event, or perhaps even inside.

They’re concerned about the potential of a pipeline leak or a marine spill, and the project’s impact on First Nations communities and Canada’s climate change policies.

Some simply want to choke off the fossil fuel industry entirely, using the pipeline as a proxy in a much bigger war.

Regardless, protesters shouldn’t dissuade Alberta politicians — or industry leaders and the prime minister — from talking about the benefits of pipelines, such as the clear advantages of getting oil off of rail and shipped underground.

As Notley noted: “The moderate majority risk being shouted over.”

Trans Mountain also has critics inside the political universe who want the project halted, including the mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby, as well as the NDP government of B.C. Premier John Horgan.

Kinder Morgan said recently the project’s timeline have already slipped by nine months due to problems getting necessary permits. The company recently asked the National Energy Board to let it obtain the approvals it needs from the City of Burnaby.

Introducing the premier, Anderson pointed out Friday that pipelines such as Trans Mountain cross a number of complex public policy areas: Indigenous rights, job creation, climate change, regulatory transparency and investor confidence.

“It’s been six years and counting now that we commenced this journey and almost a year to the day when we heard that we had federal approval for the project,” he said.

“So that’s a year and dirt hasn’t been turned. We haven’t commenced work yet, but I can assure we’re working very hard every day to try and get to that point.”

Aside from the upcoming NEB ruling on municipal permits, Alberta and Kinder Morgan are also waiting for a decision on legal appeals over the project’s approval.

The pipeline expansion was initially slated to start operations in December 2019. Some work on the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby began in late September, and pipeline construction is scheduled to begin in February.

While Alberta’s premier remains optimistic, I don’t know if the ball is sitting on the one-yard line or just inside the red zone, 20 yards away from pay dirt.

But as every CFL fan knows, punching the ball into the end zone is the toughest part of a long drive down the field.

In British Columbia, a goal-line stand awaits.

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

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