Liberals say yes to controversial Trans Mountain pipeline project in B.C.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved Kinder Morgan's proposal to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. Photo courtesy The Canadian Press.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is approving Kinder Morgan's proposal to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. — a $6.8-billion project that has sparked protests by climate change activists from coast to coast.

Trudeau is also effectively killing the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline across northern British Columbia, but giving a green light to Enbridge's lesser-known $7.5-billion Line 3 pipeline expansion from Alberta to Wisconsin.

The Liberals had promised a decision on Kinder Morgan by Dec. 19 but decided to announce all the pipeline decisions at once ahead of a Dec. 9 meeting between Trudeau and the provincial and territorial premiers.

"We are under no illusions that the decision we made today will be bitterly disputed by a number of people across the country who would rather we had made another decision," Trudeau — flanked by a number of his senior cabinet ministers — told a news conference in Ottawa.

"We took this decision today because we believe it is in the best interests of Canada and Canadians. And as long as Kinder Morgan respects the stringent conditions put forward by the National Energy Board, this project will get built — because it's in the national interest of Canadians, because we need to get our resources to market in safe, responsible ways, and that is exactly what we're going to do."

Trudeau, who described spending much of his childhood on Canada's west coast and living for a number of years in British Columbia while working as a teacher, insisted his government was making the right call.

"Others will be opposed to this project for their own reasons," he said. "We respect that … but to them and to all Canadians, I want to say this: If I thought this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast, I would reject it."

He said the project would create 15,000 new middle-class jobs, the majority of them in the trades, and would meet stringent environmental standards while also adhering to the federal government's national climate plan.

That includes 157 binding conditions set out by the National Energy Board, he added, noting that the project would not have been approved without the government of Alberta's own carbon-pricing efforts and cap on oilsands emissions.

The decision to close the book on Northern Gateway came as a surprise to no one. But Trudeau added a corollary: a moratorium on crude oil tanker shipping on B.C.'s north coast, something the Liberals promised in the 2015 election campaign.

Alberta's NDP premier Rachel Notley, who met earlier in the day with Trudeau, lauded the prime minister for his leadership as she promised her own constituents a brighter day ahead as a result of the approval.

"Today we are finally seeing some morning light," she said in a statement.

"We are getting a chance to break our landlock. We're getting a chance to sell to China and other new markets at better prices. We're getting a chance to reduce our dependence on one market, and therefore to be more economically independent.... of equal importance, we are building the economy within a strong new national environmental policy."

Indigenous leaders and environmental leaders who spoke earlier in the day appeared resigned to the government's decision, but far from prepared to give up their fight.

"The struggle will simply intensify," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Chiefs. "It will become more litigious, it will become more political and the battle will continue."

There are no conditions under which the chiefs would have been willing to agree to the project, Phillip added.

"The risks are just too grave. The tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet will increase by 700 per cent and it's inevitable that there will be a collision in a very congested inlet."

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the federal government simply doesn't have the blessing of Canada's aboriginal community to approve the project.

"They're not going to exclude us the second time. They don't have consent to come through our treaty lands without us," he said.

"Now's our opportunity to send a clear message that we demand that we're listened to. The standard of consent is one of consensus amongst our people. And I don't see a day where our people will consent to destruction of the land, to destruction of the water. I just don't see it."

Earlier Tuesday, the broad strokes of a year-long Liberal government effort to position the government between fossil fuel development advocates, indigenous groups and climate policy hawks played out during question period in the House of Commons.

Rona Ambrose, the Conservative interim leader, said it is not enough for the Liberals to approve major pipelines; it must then "champion them through to the end" in order to see that they actually get built.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, by contrast, accused the Liberals of a "Goldilocks approach" that has browbeat the Liberal party's own environmentally conscious, anti-pipeline MPs into silence.

Trudeau was happy to claim the middle ground.

"One side of this House wants us to approve everything and ignore indigenous communities and environmental responsibilities," he said.

"The other side of the House doesn't care about the jobs or the economic growth that comes with getting our resources to market."

The stalled Northern Gateway oil pipeline from Alberta through the Great Bear Rain Forest to Kitimat, B.C., had so far been thwarted in the courts for lack of proper indigenous consultation.

The less prominent Enbridge project will see the half-century-old Line 3 pipeline from Alberta through southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the United States replaced by an entirely new line about twice the current pipeline's working capacity.

The Trans Mountain and Line 3 expansions alone would boost pipeline capacity by more than 1.1 million barrels per day.

The pipeline decisions follow weeks of Liberal government announcements designed to show it is serious about combating climate change, including an accelerated coal phase-out and a national floor price on carbon emissions starting in 2018.

Trudeau confirmed Tuesday that he'll be holding a first ministers meeting with provincial and territorial premiers as well as indigenous leaders on Dec. 9 in Ottawa, where the pan-Canadian climate plan will be the main focus of the agenda.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden will also be making a visit to Ottawa on Dec. 8-9 to meet with the first ministers — perhaps one last opportunity for the Liberals to showcase their environmental policy entente with outgoing President Barack Obama before president-elect Donald Trump's inauguration in January.

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