Thursday’s court ruling striking down the approval process for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project has left the federal government — and thus Canadians — holding the keys to a new car that has no wheels.
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled, in a unanimous decision by the three-judge panel, that the National Energy Board’s review of the pipeline proposal was greatly flawed, and thus provided no basis for the federal government to approve the expansion.
The ruling has pushed the project back to square one, making things very awkward for the Trudeau government, which promised to purchase the project in order to ensure it would be completed. Ironically, the ruling came the same day that Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. shareholders voted 99 per cent in favour of selling the project to the Canadian government for $4.5 billion, not counting construction costs that reportedly could reach $9.3 billion.
All of a sudden, it’s looking like the Trudeau government might have bought itself an expensive white elephant.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau responded to news of the court ruling by promising that the government would press on with the purchase of the pipeline project. He said in a Canadian Press story that the decisions from both the appeal court and Kinder Morgan shareholders are important steps in moving the project toward completion “in the right way for the benefit of all Canadians.”
“It means upholding our commitments with Indigenous Peoples and it means responsibly protecting Canada’s and Canadians’ investments,” Morneau said in Toronto.
Doing that might be a delicate balancing act. The appeal court’s ruling criticized the NEB for not only failing to assess the potential impact of increased tanker traffic on the West Coast’s endangered killer whale population, but also for not engaging in “meaningful two-way dialogue” with Indigenous applicants who filed the lawsuit because of their concerns about the project.
The court ruling prompted Premier Rachel Notley to pull Alberta out of the federal climate change plan. Calling the court ruling that has thrown the Trans Mountain project into uncertainty “a crisis,” Notley urged the Trudeau government to immediately appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The pipeline project isn’t dead but it’s been knocked against the ropes. The court ruling has likely added months — perhaps many months — to the Trans Mountain timetable. It was less than a year ago that TransCanada Corporation gave up on its Energy East pipeline plans because of the neverending series of obstacles thrown in its path.
Could the Trans Mountain pipeline be facing the same future?