Alberta’s NDP politicians were so over-the-moon thrilled with today’s pipeline announcement you’d think they had already won the 2019 election. Dozens of giddy MLAs and group-hugging cabinet ministers joined government staff workers gathered Tuesday morning to cheer Premier Rachel Notley as she arrived for a celebratory news conference.
Dozens of giddy MLAs and high-fiving cabinet ministers joined government staff workers to cheer Premier Rachel Notley as she arrived for a celebratory news conference.
“The deal announced today puts people to work building this pipeline right away,” said Notley at the carefully choreographed outdoor event, with the legislature as backdrop. “We said we would get the pipeline built, and we are getting it built.”
You half expected Notley to unfurl a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner.
But the mission has not yet been accomplished.
Shovels are not in the ground, pipe is not being laid, environmental protesters are not giving up. Neither is B.C. Premier John Horgan.
Today’s deal will see the federal government buy Kinder Morgan’s existing Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion. It will also see Ottawa spend an anticipated $7.4 billion to construct the controversial pipeline expansion (Alberta has committed to investing up to $2 billion to help get the project completed, if necessary).
But Tuesday’s deal does not guarantee the project will be built “immediately,” as Notley announced.
Pipeline workers are not yet picking up their construction tools and Horgan is not laying down his obstructionist tools.
Notley said the fact the project will soon be federally owned means Horgan’s court challenge against the pipeline “will have less relevance” than it did before Tuesday’s announcement.
“As a result of the pipeline having being purchased by the federal government, they have a form of Crown immunity which actually limits the degree to which provincial laws would apply to the project because it’s a federal project now,” said Notley.
Somebody might want to tell that to Horgan. He is sticking with his court challenge. Nevertheless, Notley is confident construction work will begin within weeks.
She desperately needs that to happen.
Her government’s fate is inexorably linked to the success or failure of the Trans Mountain project.
If construction does not get underway this year, the NDP government has little hope of surviving the next election.
But if shovels are in the ground this summer, the NDP might have a fighting chance
That’s why NDP MLAs were smiling from ear to ear Tuesday morning.
The federal government’s announcement was a ray of sunshine breaking through politically overcast skies.
But Jason Kenney, leader of the official Opposition United Conservative Party, was determined to rain on Notley’s parade.
“Today’s announcement changes nothing in terms of certainty for this project,” said Kenney. “Everyone that was opposed is still opposed.”
Kenney is performing something of a political contortionist act. He is offering reluctant support for Alberta’s commitment to invest up to $2 billion in the project. But he is absolutely not prepared to offer even a smidgen of praise to Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for helping broker the deal.
Like Notley, Kenney is keenly aware how the pipeline can help the NDP. But he cannot, of course, be seen to be cheering against the project. So, he is doing all he can to play down Notley’s successes: “While we continue to support the much-needed Trans Mountain project, it’s the catastrophic failure of the Alberta NDP and the Trudeau Liberals that caused Kinder Morgan to pull out and forced today’s costly decision.”
There’s another hurdle facing the project that tends to be overlooked.
The Federal Court of Appeal is due to make a ruling on whether the federal cabinet acted properly when it gave conditional approval to the project in 2016.
The Alberta government is hopeful the project will emerge triumphant, as it has in 16 consecutive legal rulings to date. We shall see.
Notley is well aware the project is not out of the woods yet. With so much on the line for her government, you get the impression she’d take a chainsaw to the trees if need be.
“As of today, this is the most certainty that this project has ever had,” declared Notley.