Postmedia News | June 16, 2016
VANCOUVER — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Thursday he won’t be able to please all Canadians on the oilsands pipeline issue that has pitted Alberta’s desperate need for an economic boost with intense concerns in B.C. and Quebec.
Trudeau, in an exclusive interview, also refused to say whether his 2015 election commitments would hand vetoes to local communities and First Nations who vehemently oppose oilsands pipelines in their midst.
His comments coincided with the release of a poll showing huge differences in regional views toward the idea of transporting hundreds of thousands of barrels a day of diluted bitumen to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
“We have complex situations with multiple answers, with people who do better out of some scenarios than others,” the prime minister said Thursday while in Vancouver to announce federal funding for local transit projects.
“What we need to do as a government is fold in a broad range of perspectives, understand the concerns, work to allay the fears as much as we possibly can on a broad range of levels” and work toward a consensus with communities, First Nations, and other stakeholders.
“Governing and making important decisions are always about trade-offs, it’s an art as much as a science … You don’t ever hope for total 100 per cent unanimity but you do hope you’re going to get a sense that this is the right way to move forward.”
The most imminent project on the drawing board, and the only one that would give hope any time soon to Albertans reeling from plunging oil prices and the Fort McMurray fires, is Kinder Morgan’s proposed $6.8-billion expansion of its pipeline network from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.
The federal cabinet is to make a final determination on the project in December, after considering the National Energy Board’s approval of the expansion subject to 157 conditions.
A three-person panel has been set up to hold public hearings. The government will consider the panel’s findings before making a decision.
The mayors of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton had a war of words last week on the issue, with Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson claiming Trudeau’s 2015 election platform effectively gives West Coast communities a veto over Kinder Morgan’s plans to triple the pipeline’s capacity to 895,000 barrels a day.
Robertson, who was accused of fear-mongering after warning of possible catastrophic spills in the Vancouver harbour, was relying on Trudeau’s campaign platform. “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission,” it said.
The business community understands that we need broad support for these projects.
The platform promised that a Liberal government would endorse a United Nations declaration that says indigenous peoples must give “full, prior and informed consent” before projects proceed in their territory.
Meanwhile, the North Vancouver-based Squamish First Nation filed an application on Thursday with the Federal Court of Appeal, asserting that the NEB’s decision should be quashed because of inadequate First Nations consultation by the Crown.
Squamish Chief Ian Campbell said the board erred in approving the project when there wasn’t enough information presented at hearings about the risks of a Burrard Inlet spill near the company’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.
“This past December Prime Minister Trudeau talked to First Nations about becoming working partners, about renewal and reconciliation,” Campbell said in a statement.
“If that is true — beyond fine words and lofty rhetoric — we need the prime minister and his government to meet with us about saving Burrard Inlet.”
Business groups have complained that both pledges have created overheated expectations among activists and aboriginal leaders, even though experts say no groups hold an unconditional veto blocking the government’s ability to act in the national economic interest.
Trudeau neither confirmed nor rejected the notion he has handed out effective political vetoes.
“What I’ve heard from business communities is they’ve recognized that ignoring community voices, trying to run roughshod across environmental concerns, has resulted in not getting … pipelines and projects built that people wanted,” he said.
“The previous government’s attempt to ignore social licence ended up preventing significant projects from being built, and that’s (why) the business community understands that we need broad support for these projects.”
The Angus Reid Institute online survey of 1,505 Canadians, done May 30-June 6, showed that 41 per cent of respondents believe the NEB made the right decision last month when it approved Kinder Morgan’s proposal.
Just 24 per cent said the NEB was wrong to give the project a thumbs-up. The remaining 35 per cent were undecided.
The poll showed sharply divergent opinions in the three provinces where Trudeau has to pull off a delicate balancing act on pipelines.
An overwhelming 63 per cent of Albertans surveyed said the NEB made the right decision, while nine per cent disagreed. The rest were unsure.
In B.C., 41 per cent supported the decision but 34 per cent — the highest in the country — were opposed.
“That result goes some way to debunk the myth that exists east of the Rockies that everyone in B.C. is anti-pipeline,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the institute.
The least support for the decision was in Quebec, as 32 per cent of respondents were in favour and 30 per cent opposed. Quebec, where TransCanada’s $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline proposal is highly controversial and more visible in the media, had a relatively high “unsure” total for the Alberta-B.C. project, at 38 per cent.
The polling firm polled a representative sampling of Canadians online, and therefore does not claim a margin of error. It notes that if this had been a random telephone survey the error margin would be 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.