Court ruling would have ‘killed’ privately held Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Trudeau says. Others aren’t so sure

Court ruling would have ‘killed’ privately held Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Trudeau says. Others aren’t so sure

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) and Amarjeet Sohi (right, Minister of Natural Resources) meet with Dr. Jinwen Chen (Director of Hydrocarbon Conversion) at the Canmet Energy Devon Research Centre on September 4, 2018

Last week’s court ruling on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would have “killed” the project outright if it were still in private hands, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Trudeau defended his government’s decision to buy the pipeline in remarks to reporters during a visit to Edmonton Wednesday.

His appearance comes one week after the Federal Court of Appeal reversed a cabinet decision allowing construction to begin on the pipeline expansion between Strathcona County and Burnaby, B.C.

“If that project expansion was still in private hands, that court of appeal ruling would have killed it,” Trudeau said to reporters in Edmonton.

Faced with opposition from the B.C. government, some Indigenous communities and environmental groups, the federal government in May opted to purchase the pipeline and all of Kinder Morgan Canada’s core assets.

The $4.5-billion deal closed last Thursday, the same day the appellate court ruling further delayed the project.

Trudeau told 630 CHED radio listeners Wednesday morning that the project would be “dead” if the federal government hadn’t stepped in, citing government’s higher tolerance for risk and the fact it does not need to turn a profit.

“There would be no Trans Mountain expansion if it was still a private proponent doing it,” he said. “So our decision to actually take on the project is the only thing that means that we can still move forward with this project.”

‘Very damaging’

Trudeau’s comments drew criticism from Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs, MP for the eastern Alberta riding of Lakeland.

“It’s a very damaging message — for the prime minister to basically admit that the private sector can’t build pipelines in Canada,” she said.

She said the project is still stalled despite the government’s purchase.

“If the prime minister knew, as he should have, that there was this risk of this ruling … then why did he not have a concrete action plan that would be launched and announced immediately in the event of that ruling?”

On Wednesday, the head of Suncor Energy Inc. said the company won’t move ahead with additional crude oil production expansion until there’s physical progress on getting pipelines approved.

Chief executive Steve Williams told an investor conference in New York that recent judicial rulings on Trans Mountain and Keystone XL do not have any impacts on its ability to get its product to market in the short term.

However, the company won’t approve additional expansions in production next year and into 2020 until the fate of the pipelines is clear, he said.

Decision has ‘a lot of positives’

The appellate court found the federal government fell short in assessing the pipeline expansion’s impacts on tanker traffic, as well as in its duty to consult First Nations before approving the project.

Martha Hall Findlay, a former Liberal MP who is now CEO of the Canada West Foundation, disagreed with Trudeau’s claim that the court decision would have killed a privately held project.

“We don’t feel that way,” she said. “Very much the thrust of our messaging on (the Trans Mountain expansion) … is that private or not, the decision actually has a lot of positives.”

Court ruling would have 'killed' privately held Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Trudeau says. Others aren't so sure