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Trudeau government sends Trans Mountain review back to National Energy Board

The new review is due before the Alberta election.

by Hilary Beaumont
Sep 21 2018, 7:00pm

Ottawa has asked the National Energy Board to reconsider its recommendation on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — the first of two steps the Federal Court of Appeal said the Trudeau government must take if it wants to build the pipeline. Ottawa also needs to go back and properly consult with First Nations groups who challenged the project’s approval in court, and won.

In its new environmental review of the pipeline, the NEB must consider increased tanker traffic off the west coast and how it will impact endangered orca whales and the marine environment — something the court said it should have done from the beginning.

On August 30, the Federal Court of Appeal released its unanimous decision to quash the pipeline’s approval — sending a political shockwave through Ottawa, Alberta and BC. While Ottawa and Alberta want to get oil to international markets by shipping it off the west coast, the project faces fierce opposition in BC, where mayors, the provincial government, environmentalists and First Nations have called it too risky.

The court said government consultations with six First Nations along the pipeline route “fell well short of the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada,” and that the NEB made a “critical error” when it “unjustifiably” excluded marine tanker traffic from its review. Pipeline opponents cheered the decision as a huge delay to construction, while Justin Trudeau’s government blamed the ruling on inadequate consultations under Stephen Harper’s government. Alberta premier Rachel Notley, meanwhile, demanded that Ottawa act within weeks, and vowed that Alberta was pulling out of Trudeau’s national climate plan until Ottawa could find a path forward for the expansion.

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The board will have 22 weeks to complete its review, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced Friday. The review is due by the end of February, just in time for the Alberta election.

“The regulatory timeline laid out today is actually reasonable, and is in line with what we knew was the best case scenario when the federal court ruled earlier this month,” Notley told reporters at a press conference Friday.

“...If [the timeline] starts to slip, and the goalposts shift, I can assure you that the voices of Albertans will be loud.”

While Notley was cautiously warm to the news, on the other side of the Alberta-BC border, it was not welcome.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs reacted to the news by calling on Trudeau to accept the pipeline’s defeat and cancel its directive to the NEB to undertake a new review.

“The Trudeau government’s fanatical determination to build this disastrous pipeline and tanker project is boorish and disheartening,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the UBCIC, in a news release. “It is clear that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike do not want this project built. Instead of continuing to waste more money, time, and resources on this aberration, Mr. Trudeau needs to accept the public’s rejection, as reified by the wisdom of the courts, to reject the project altogether.”

The federal government has not yet announced when it will restart consultations with the six First Nations that challenged the pipeline’s approval in court. Expect that announcement soon, Sohi told reporters on Friday.

“There already has been a good deal of consultation,” Notley said during the press conference. “We’re not starting from zero on the consultation piece. The question is how long it will take to finish the job.”

Ottawa also has the option to appeal the court’s ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada — a time-consuming process that pipeline opponents would not cheer. Sohi said the government has not made a decision on that yet.

Cover image of people drumming during a rally celebrating a recent federal court ruling against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, in Vancouver, on Saturday September 8, 2018. Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press