OTTAWA — The Liberal government is being hoodwinked by Houston-based Kinder Morgan to get its contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built, Elizabeth May charged Monday.
"Kinder Morgan has executed an extremely effective piece of blackmail," the Green Party leader spoke to reporters as members of Parliament returned to the House of Commons after a two-week constituency break.
May said she's "astonished by the degree of mass hysteria" sparked by Kinder Morgan's April 8 statement announcing it is suspending all non-essential spending related to the $7.4-billion project.
The company blamed British Columbia's NDP government, stating that since the election in June 2017, the province had "been clear and public in its intention to use 'every tool in the toolbox' to stop the project."
Kinder Morgan threatened to walk away from the pipeline if an agreement can't be made to move the project forward before May 31.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acted on the company's ultimatum. After detouring back to Ottawa from a 10-day foreign trip to meet with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan, Trudeau announced the government will use financial and legislative measures to ensure the project moves ahead.
The pipeline is of "vital strategic interest to Canada," Trudeau said. "It will be built."
But May said the business arguments to support and push the project ahead are weak. And she questioned the diversion of taxpayer dollars into a project that may not be financially viable.
"How on earth is that an appropriate place to put public resources in 2018?" said the Saanich—Gulf Islands MP.
Pipeline has become 'albatross' around PM's neck: May
The Federal Court of Appeal has yet to rule on an impending case involving Indigenous communities that could throw the project's timeline off course, she noted.
"Everything you've been told about getting billions of dollars into the Canadian economy by finishing this project is highly dubious," May said. "There is no case for it."
The claim the project will create thousands of jobs is "highly questionable," she added, pointing out how refinery jobs would be lost if unrefined cheap bitumen goes out of country for processing.
"I think we're in the grips of a kind of passion play drama taking place for the benefit of Alberta voters to see who can be more dramatically more pro-pipeline: Rachel Notley or Jason Kenney."
Notley and Horgan both have their political faiths riding on the project. Horgan's NDP campaigned on a promise to do whatever it could to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Meanwhile in Alberta, Notley regards the project as critical to her province's economy. It is also crucial to her re-election prospects against Kenney, the leader of the United Conservatives, when Albertans head to the polls next year.
The pipeline debate has become an "albatross" around the prime minister's neck, May said, forcing him to "break promise after promise" related to his progressive mandate.
We have a very terrible record of properly consulting Indigenous peoples and First Nations when it comes to projects. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May
Not only is the pipeline calling into question Trudeau's commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, she said, but also his promises to Indigenous peoples.
"We have a very terrible record of properly consulting Indigenous peoples and First Nations when it comes to projects," she said. "If this was the best, it's a very low bar."
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said major energy projects, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline, are inherently controversial. In question period, Carr said the government has engaged in "unprecedented" consultations with Indigenous communities "up and down the line" over the project.
Fourty-four Indigenous communities have signed benefits agreements related to the project with Kinder Morgan, Carr said, 33 of which are in British Columbia.
Watch: Trudeau addresses role of Indigenous concerns in pipeline process
But NDP MP Charlie Angus said the government is deliberately excluding Indigenous leadership from the recent emergency pipeline talks.
"If you look at the minister's own briefing notes, the government admits that their response to the legitimate Indigenous question are 'paternalistic, unrealistic, and inadequate,'" Angus said in the House of Commons. "That's colonialism 101."
The Timmins—James Bay MP accused the government of being at Kinder Morgan's beck and call after the company issued its May deadline.
Opposition against the project is strongest on the coast, where increased tanker traffic is proposed to carry diluted bitumen to overseas markets.
If you look at the minister's own briefing notes, the government admits that their response to the legitimate Indigenous question are 'paternalistic, unrealistic, and inadequate.' NDP MP Charlie Angus
The B.C. government, coastal Indigenous communities, and environmental groups are not convinced there are adequate emergency clean-up measures in place in the event of an oil spill.
"Trudeau and Notley continue to brazenly and arrogantly ignore First Nations rights, an oversight that will limit any ability to address risk and uncertainty for this ill-conceived project," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said in a statement Monday.
"Making unilateral decisions about projects on unceded Indigenous territories is the exact opposite of reconciliation."
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are blaming the Trudeau government for Kinder Morgan's delays and suggesting to global investors that "Canada is closed for business."
"It is a crisis of confidence in Canada's economic and investment reputation," Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs said. "It is the latest in a pattern of capital fleeing Canada under the prime minister and it is just the tip of the iceberg," she told the House of Commons.
MPs will hold an emergency debate on the issue Monday evening.
It's been five years since the company made its initial filing with the National Energy Board to twin an existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline in order to increase its capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.
Trudeau's government approved the project in 2016.
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