Canada’s natural resources minister told a Red Deer audience he’s “absolutely confident” the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will proceed on schedule, since the federal government “went way beyond” in consulting with Indigenous groups.
Amarjeet Sohi said he isn’t worried about the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision this week to hear six challenges of the pipeline expansion, all based on arguments about whether enough Indigenous consultation was done.
The court dismissed major areas of opposition against the project, said Sohi — meaning that no more legal arguments will be heard about its viability or environmental impacts.
Sohi, who spoke Friday morning at the Canadian Propane Association’s Alberta seminar, said the appeal court is now only prepared to hear about whether the government met its duty to fully consult with Indigenous groups.
“I am absolutely confident that we went way beyond our legal duty,” he stressed.
Less confidence was expressed by Alberta’s associate minister of natural gas, Dale Nally, who also spoke Friday about the pipeline project at the same seminar.
Nally said Sohi and the federal government have already celebrated the startup of the Trans Mountain expansion four times — only to be met with resistance, and financial and legal impediments each time.
“For Alberta, there is only one measure of success, and that is completion,” he added. “We will wait to celebrate until oil is flowing through the pipeline, and not before.”
Since the appeal court halted the pipeline project in August 2018, ruling that the government had done an insufficient environmental review and inadequately consulted with Indigenous groups, Sohi and eight teams of federal consultants have been travelling to various First Nations to address fears about potential impact on native burial grounds, fish habitat, ocean mammals and the safety of coastal villages, among other matters.
While this latest expedited appeal is heard by the court, Sohi said work on the restarted pipeline will continue. The project is still on track to be completed by May 2022, added the minister, who predicted 4,200 people will be working on it by December.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would triple the capacity of an existing pipeline from Alberta’s oilpatch to an ocean terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
It wasn’t the only area on which the two ministers differed. Nally and Sohi also presented opposing perspectives on the federal Bill C-69, which changes the federal approval process for energy projects.
The Senate passed the controversial bill that will have future infrastructure projects evaluated based on their impact on human health, the environment and local communities.
Nally said Bill C-69 will create more red tape and delays in bringing Canadian oil to markets. He feels it will take autonomy away from provinces and is “one-sided” against industry.
He also believes the new legislation will repel energy investment and keep Alberta from fully capitalizing on its resources.
“We intend to launch a constitutional appeal,” said Nally.
But Sohi said Bill C-69 was created to avoid exactly the kind of pitfalls that have caused headaches and delays around the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The federal government has learned from this experience about the importance of launching early discussions with affected groups, said the minister.
There are new requirements for consultations with Indigenous communities affected by infrastructure projects and widened public participation in the review process. The bill also makes it mandatory to weigh climate change as a factor for any proposed project.
Sohi believes this will cut down on some of the litigation brought against future projects, because it brings potential critics into the decision-making process before they get to the courts.