Federal ministers argue Trans Mountain key to Canada’s climate plan

Federal ministers argue Trans Mountain key to Canada’s climate plan

They say national carbon pricing not possible without Alberta’s support.

The Trudeau government flew two ministers to Vancouver last week to press the federal Liberal’s controversial case that the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was necessary for tough negotiations on national carbon pricing and a new a half-billion-dollar fund to fight global warming.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna was first up, announcing a $500 million Low Carbon Economy Fund competition that can grant anyone — a business, NGO, reserve or municipality —money for innovative projects to curb greenhouse gases.

After explaining the fund, which lacked precise numbers on the amount of emissions it might eliminate, McKenna asked reporters to applaud — “You’re all supposed to cheer — yay!” at the GLOBE Forum 2018 sustainability business summit last Thursday.

The minister was, after all, hoping to change the tone on a growing West Coast pipeline drama that’s seen a 5,000-person march against the Trans Mountain expansion, the arrest of 14 protesters recently, and conflict between Alberta and B.C.’s NDP governments over whether the expansion will go ahead.

B.C. Indigenous leaders head a 5,000-person march against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on March 10. Photo by Rogue Collective.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has threatened to cut off oil and gas shipments to B.C. unless Victoria ceases trying to block the Trans Mountain expansion construction efforts through the courts. Such a move could potentially trigger B.C. energy costs to soar, including vehicle gasoline and home-heating gas.

McKenna said Ottawa’s climate plans have only been made possible with the blessing of Alberta’s “progressive” government, which put in a 100 megatonne cap on oilsands emissions and is phasing out coal use for energy.

“We stand by our decision [on Kinder Morgan],” McKenna said. “We would not have been able to get a national climate plan if we did not have the key support of provinces like Alberta.”

“There are other politicians who are less committed to any climate action,” she added. “If you don’t have the support of people as we move to a cleaner future, you’ll lose the trust, then you’ll lose elections.”

McKenna’s comments appeared aimed at three provincial carbon plan critics — Alberta United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenny, Ontario Conservative leader Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe — who have all pledged to block Ottawa’s minimum national carbon price of $10 per tonne on all provinces starting January 2019.


Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr peers into the clean energy future with a virtual reality visor at the GLOBE Forum 2018 sustainable business convention in Vancouver. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

McKenna’s counterpart, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, also attended the Vancouver GLOBE convention, saying that society’s transition to clean energy is “inevitable,” but fossil fuel pipelines were still needed to pay for it.

“Remember, the plan is to use this time of transition to Canada’s advantage. By building the infrastructure to get our resources to global markets and using the revenues to invest in clean forms of energy. That’s why we’ve approved pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion, and we are determined to see them built,” Carr said last Thursday.

He later told The Tyee that it’s up to market forces, and “not for the Government of Canada to decide” if the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is the last major oilsands pipeline to be proposed.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said he regretted the comments from the federal ministers.

“When we see the aggressive promotion of diluted bitumen shipments, not for domestic use…. I’m frustrated by that,” Horgan said last Friday, sitting next to Washington state’s like-minded Gov. Jay Inslee.

“I have difficulty understanding, as [Washington] Gov. Inslee does, how investing in significant fossil fuel infrastructure, at a time when we’re trying to reduce our dependence on that infrastructure source, makes any sense. For me, and for British Columbians, we’re going to assert our jurisdiction.”

Oil tanker approaches Kinder Morgan Westridge Terminal in Burnaby in the Port of Vancouver. Company handout.

The premier added that B.C. is way ahead of Ottawa on climate action and will increase its revenue-neutral carbon tax on April 1 by five dollars per tonne to $35.

B.C. is now in the courts to clarify if it can use its provincial powers to restrict Alberta’s bitumen flows, while it scientifically studies the environmental impacts of bitumen oil spills.

The BC NDP was able to remove the previous Christy Clark Liberal government from power on the basis of the BC Green Party’s support which also insisted on opposition to the Kinder Morgan expansion, a new book reveals.

SFU climate change economist Mark Jaccard has called the Trudeau government’s grand bargain — to give Alberta a major oilsands pipeline in return for a national carbon plan — “Orwellian.”

Jaccard says his research shows that when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion’s fuels’ emissions are all added up — including the overseas burning of the bitumen in cars and factories —it will be impossible for Canada to meet its Paris Agreement climate commitments meant to restrain planetary warming to two degrees this century.

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