Given the lengths to which the government will defend what it sees as core economic interests, Joseph Quesnel asks why they did not support a bill that would have paved the way for federal action to protect Canada’s interest in increased pipeline capacity?

By Joseph Quesnel, March 13, 2019

The current federal government needs to stop being selective when and where it chooses to support Canada’s vital economic interests. Consistently intervening in one region over another is bad for federalism and inter-provincial relations.

The government needs to finally keep its word about using all legislative options to protect the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, as well as all pipeline projects that seek to increase pipeline capacity.

One case in point is the National Energy Board’s (NEB) recent ruling that the Trans Mountain project is in the national public interest.

NEB found that the project would be good for all Canadians in terms of diversifying markets for Alberta oil producers, which would serve to create jobs and economic opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, while providing revenues for governments.

Federal politicians of all stripes, in fact, have known that the Trans Mountain expansion is in the public interest. Surely that was the case when Ottawa acquired the pipeline from Kinder Morgan in May 2018.

Then why did Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs act together to prevent passage of a Senate bill that aimed to affirm federal authority over pipelines?

Back in February 2018, Independent Alberta Senator Doug Black introduced Bill S-245, which declared the Trans Mountain project a work “for the general advantage of Canada” and contained language invoking proper federal powers over inter-provincial pipelines under section 92(10)(c) of the Constitution Act, 1867.

The bill would have provided a legal foundation for federal action on inter-provincial pipelines. How is that objectionable?

In the end, on October 24, 2018, a majority of MPs (197 versus 86) in the House of Commons defeated this Senate bill at second reading.

On this government’s watch, a trade war ignited between Alberta and British Columbia over the pipeline issue. Premier Christy Clark fired the first shot in imposing her five conditions for “accepting” Alberta oil. This led to trade threats over myriad areas, including electricity and wine.

Ottawa also stood by when the Quebec premier announced at a premier’s meeting – to the shock of New Brunswick counting on Energy East – that it would never allow a pipeline through Quebec territory.

The federal government should never be a bystander in this kind of inter-provincial warfare, especially when the issue concerns a matter under clear federal authority – keeping in mind this assertion only pertains to inter-provincial relations and not to Indigenous parties.

It is funny how the Prime Minister has defended his actions in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin affair as concern for jobs and important infrastructure projects. All evidence shows that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to highly questionable lengths to assert public interests in defending his government’s actions to protect this engineering firm, in the name of protecting jobs (although evidence points to political considerations).

So, given the lengths to which this government will defend what it sees as core economic interests, how could they not support a bill that would have paved the way for federal action to protect Canada’s interest in increased pipeline capacity?

Informed observers either conclude this government is disingenuous in its support for the energy sector or it is allowing its judgment to be completely clouded by political interests and calculations. Or perhaps both.

This government needs to be even more motivated in ensuring these pipeline projects proceed and in asserting the federal power over these projects. They need to finally match their professed commitments with decisive action.

Joseph Quesnel is program manager for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy project.

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