Graham Thomson: Edmonton MP Amarjeet Sohi now in charge of getting Trans Mountain pipeline project built

Graham Thomson: Edmonton MP Amarjeet Sohi now in charge of getting Trans Mountain pipeline project built

His official title is federal minister of natural resources. Unofficially, he is minister of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Say hello again to Amarjeet Sohi, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods.

Edmonton Mill Woods MP Amarjeet Sohi, centre, stands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Julie Payette after being sworn in as minister of natural resources during a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

His official title is federal minister of natural resources.

Unofficially, he is minister of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Say hello again to Amarjeet Sohi, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods.

Up until now you knew him as the federal minister of infrastructure. But when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, Sohi moved to the new job that has him overseeing everything from forestry to mining to renewable energy to oil and gas projects all over Canada.

And the biggest, most controversial project is the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that will run almost literally under Sohi’s backyard.

It’s no coincidence that Trudeau put an Alberta MP in charge of overseeing the project designed to triple the ability of oil companies to pump bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to the West Coast for shipment overseas.

It’s not as if Sohi will be heading out this weekend with shovel in hand to begin digging a trench for the pipeline. But there is political logic behind Sohi’s appointment. For one, there’s the positive political optics of putting an Alberta cabinet minister in charge of a project that means so much to Alberta’s economy.

There’s also the boost it will give to Sohi’s own political profile in a province that only has three Liberal MPs. (It used to have four but Calgary MP Darshan Kang resigned from the Liberal caucus after a sexual harassment scandal in 2017.) Sohi is also the only federal cabinet minister from Alberta. (There used to be two but Calgary MP Kent Hehr resigned his portfolio last January amid complaints of sexual harassment.)

Pipeline political goodwill

A successful pipeline project might not have Albertans flocking to the polls to elect a slate of Liberals in the 2019 federal election, but it might help the government hold on to the seats it already has.

Not that Sohi would be so politically crass to put it that way.

When asked about his new portfolio during a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Sohi took pains to point out he is not the minister of natural resources for just Alberta.

“The scope of the natural resources ministry is far wider than just oil and gas. It focuses on the forestry industry, it focuses on land and mining and there’s other components to it,” he said. “This is about growing the Canadian economy, not just Alberta’s economy.”

But no matter how careful Sohi is to take a pan-Canadian view, he obviously realizes just how crucial the Trans Mountain pipeline is to the economy and Liberal fortunes in Alberta.

“Our focus is to get this pipeline built and deal with the uncertainty that has been caused by the government of British Columbia,” said Sohi. “Construction has started and work can proceed in a timely fashion.”

Construction will begin in a matter of weeks to clear the right of way and Kinder Morgan has begun to stockpile steel pipe in Alberta in anticipation of putting it in the ground. But there’s no timeline for laying pipe yet.

Finalize purchase in August

The federal government expects to finish the purchase of the Trans Mountain project from Kinder Morgan in August. It also expects the project will go ahead despite pledges from environmental groups to stop construction.

“As far as the protesters are concerned, we live in a democratic country and people are entitled to express their views,” said Sohi. “But we are committed to getting it done and we are actually getting it done.”

Sohi sounds a lot like Premier Rachel Notley when talking about Trans Mountain. It’s all very positive. That’s not surprising given how their political fortunes are tied so closely to the project.

“We’ve been quite pleased with the degree to which our government has had access not only to federal cabinet ministers but frankly to the prime minister,” said Notley Wednesday. She expects Sohi’s shuffle to the natural resources portfolio will only make things better for her government on the Trans Mountain file. “We are very pleased to have a representative from Alberta who will be sitting at the cabinet table.”

This week Notley will be sitting at a table alongside Premier John Horgan of British Columbia as the premiers gather for their annual meeting in New Brunswick.

Among other things, Notley wants the premiers to discuss the importance of market-access projects such as Trans Mountain.

But she won’t get far with Horgan, who will no doubt continue to oppose the pipeline expansion no matter which federal cabinet minister is in charge

Graham Thomson: Edmonton MP Amarjeet Sohi now in charge of getting Trans Mountain pipeline project built

 

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