Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says if he were prime minister, he’d build the Trans Mountain pipeline by invoking constitutional powers and banning foreign funding from being used to oppose the project.
Speaking to reporters at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, Scheer outlined his plan to restart construction on the pipeline, which was stalled by a ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal last month and prompted the Liberals to announce last week they will send the project back to have its impact on marine ecosystems assessed by the National Energy Board.
Andrew Scheer pitches Trans Mountain rescue plan
READ MORE: Liberals will bow to court ruling, launch review of Trans Mountain oil tanker traffic impact
That plan relies on repealing the carbon tax, enacting legislation Scheer said would “clarify the role of proponents and governments involved in consultations,” preventing foreign funds from being used to oppose the pipeline, and use the federal powers to declare the project as being of a national benefit to Canada.
Scheer also wants emergency legislation to use an existing Trans Canada review of oil tanker traffic in lieu of the NEB repeating that work, which he said would satisfy the courts conditions. He added more Indigenous consultation does need to happen, and suggested the appointment of a ministerial special representative to oversee the process.
“Together, these measures will change the catastrophic projects that the Liberals have implemented and help to renew the energy sector,” Scheer said.
Canada now is in full charge of the pipeline, having purchased it from Kinder Morgan last month for $4.5 billion. Ottawa stepped in hoping that federal ownership would provide the political certainty to get it built, and the government intends to sell it to a private-sector buyer after the project expansion is completed.
That allows the federal government to declare a piece of infrastructure in the national interest, but critics say it essentially doubles down on powers already established in law.
He also called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to enact emergency legislation to prevent the pipeline having to go for a secondary assessment by the National Energy Board and to ask for both a suspension of the Federal Court’s decision as well as an appeal to the Supreme Court.
In the ruling stalling the pipeline, the Federal Court said the Liberals had failed to adequately consult Indigenous people on the project and also that the initial review of the project, done under the former Conservative government, was fundamentally flawed because it did not take into account the impact of increased tanker traffic from the pipeline expansion on marine animals into account.
"We certainly dont believe that the 30-plus Indigenous communities who had signed agreements, who are going to see real benefits in their communities, should have to go without those advantages because a smaller group of people are simply opposed to it," he said.
That ruling came after the Liberals announced a controversial decision to buy the pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said on Friday an update on that timeline will come when the government announces how it plans to react to the Federal Court’s ruling on Indigenous consultation in the coming weeks.
He did not say whether that would fit in with the 22-week timeline given to the National Energy Board to complete its new tanker traffic assessment by Sohi.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has outlined a plan to jump-start Trans Mountain construction, a month after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed cabinet approval to build the multi-billion dollar expansion project.
Sohis press secretary, Vanessa Adams, said the Conservatives have no reason to complain given their shoddy environmental review was the one the court rejected in this case, and in previous ones the courts also rejected.
Scheer said Ottawa must immediately appoint a ministerial special representative to lead a renewed consultation effort with Indigenous peoples. He also said the Liberal government should request a stay — a temporary suspension — of the court's decision while it appeals it to the Supreme Court of Canada. (An appeal could take months.)
"This is a rescue plan for the Trans Mountain expansion process. It makes use of every tool the government has at its disposal to get the project back on track," Scheer said. "The quicker they move on this, the better. We'd like to see a fixed timeline."
In August, a Federal Court judge found Ottawa's consultation efforts with affected Indigenous groups had been insufficient, and instructed the federal government to pursue more meaningful, two-way consultation with them to ensure their concerns about the project are better addressed.
Bellegarde said he spoke to chiefs who support of the idea of a terminal near Tsawwassen — but Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams said Monday he is not one of them.
The federal government has a constitutional duty to consult when Aboriginal rights might be infringed upon by development. The court found the government's previous consultation efforts amounted to hiring a series of "note-takers" to document Indigenous concerns. Those who compiled the initial Crown Consultation Report will have to return to those communities to make some court-ordered fixes.
Perry Bellegarde said many Indigenous communities believe in the need to diversify export markets for Canadian resources through work to transition to a clean energy economy.
Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, the party's Indigenous affairs critic, said a special representative could be leading those efforts right now — meeting with bands like the Coldwater Indian Band in B.C., which has said the project's route poses an unacceptable risk to the sole source of drinking water for 90 per cent of people on the reserve.
"The First Nations along the route that have concerns could be consulted right now," she said in an interview. "Obviously if there is any risk … they could have conversations about rerouting the pipeline."
In its ruling, the appeal court said the government fell short in its consultations because it sent note takers without decision-making power to meetings with Indigenous Leaders and failed to address specific issues of concern raised by different bands. Mr. Scheer called on the government to appoint a special ministerial representative who could consult effectively with First Nations and seek to accommodate their concerns about the impact of the project.
(While there is entrenched opposition from some First Nations groups, Trans Mountain also has signed 43 "mutual benefit agreements" with different Indigenous groups in both B.C. and Alberta who support its construction. A number of pro-pipeline Indigenous groups back construction as a source of revenue for their cash-strapped communities.)
While the Liberal government outlined last week how it planned to address another problem flagged by the court — the fact that the National Energy Board did not assess the impact the pipeline would have on coastal waters and marine life — it has not yet said what it plans to do to breathe new life into the Indigenous consultation effort.
Construction on the pipeline project was halted after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the federal approval in late August. The Conservative Leader said Ottawa should seek a stay of that ruling and launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, even as it pursues other avenues to get it back on track.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Monday the government will be announcing its Indigenous process "very, very shortly."
"We have some work to do and we are just finalizing the details of the next steps and we will be announcing them shortly," he said. "Our goal is to make sure whatever the next steps we take are the right steps and that they enable us to engage in a way that will get us to the outcomes that we think are appropriate."
Mr. Scheer also urged the government to introduce emergency legislation that would declare that Transport Canada – not the NEB – has jurisdiction over marine traffic and has done the required analysis of increased tanker traffic from the pipeline expansion.
The government has imposed a five-month timeline on the NEB-led assessment of the project's marine impact. A timeline for new Indigenous talks is still uncertain.
The Liberal government, which completed its $4.5 billion acquisition of the existing pipeline in August, has vowed to build the expansion project, saying it is in the national interest.
But Scheer said Monday the Liberal government, by ordering the NEB to re-do part of its initial environmental assessment, is simply add more layers to the process. He suggested the Liberal government should accept Transport Canada's existing analysis of the project's impact on tanker traffic as sufficient.
The court said the NEB did not adequately address what impact a substantial increase in tanker traffic could have on the endangered southern resident killer whale population in those waters, or the potential impact of a diluted bitumen spill from tankers.
This is a rescue plan for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. It is comprehensive and robust. It makes use of every tool the government has at its disposal to get this project back on track, Mr. Scheer said.
If built, the expanded pipeline will carry an estimated 890,000 barrels a day — tripling the line's existing capacity — and increase traffic off B.C.'s coast from approximately five tankers to 34 tankers a month.
Scheer also said the government should support a Senate public bill, S-245, introduced by Independent Alberta Sen. Doug Black, which would clarify that the pipeline falls under federal jurisdiction.
Ottawa may also appeal the decision – as Mr. Scheer urged Monday – but such a move would amount to a longer-term effort to clarify the law, rather than a short-term fix for the Trans Mountain delay.
Scheer also outlined other initiatives he would pursue, if elected, to shore up the energy industry. He would start by repealing Bill C-69, Liberal legislation that is currently before the Senate.
This afternoon, Andrew Scheer doubled-down on this approach, spokeswoman Vanessa Adams said. Its clear that the Conservatives have learned nothing from their decade of failure.
The bill has been a lightning rod for oil patch boosters who say it vests too much authority in the hands of Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to approve or deny a project, rather than the experts who carry out impact assessments.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Sohi later accused the previous Conservative government of cutting corners at every turn by disregarding environmental concerns and ignoring Indigenous peoples.
The bill has been criticized also for making a change to the rules on who can voice concerns about a natural resources project. Under the current NEB regime, a person must apply for "standing" before being allowed to testify before a review panel.
Bill C-69 would allow greater access for members of the public, environmentalists and Indigenous groups.
The government will soon be indicating how it intends to re-engage with First Nations, the minister said Monday in the House of Commons.
Scheer said this opens up the process to "foreign-funded interference," suggesting green activists are bankrolled by foreigners intent on opposing Canadian resource development at every turn.
He also said a Conservative government would repeal Bill C-48, a piece of government legislation that imposes a ban on tanker traffic along B.C.'s north coast.
The legislation was introduced after the Trudeau government cancelled Enbridge's Northern Gateway project, which would have carried diluted bitumen to a terminal in Kitimat, B.C., for export to Asia.
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