OTTAWA — Canada's Senate passed legislation Tuesday affirming that the Trans Mountain expansion project is of general advantage to Canada, but so far the Liberal government won't say whether it will support the bill.
Bill S-245 was introduced by Alberta Independent Sen. Doug Black back in February — two months before Kinder Morgan, the company behind the pipeline, issued a May 31 ultimatum to the federal government saying it was suspending non-essential spending on the project. Kinder Morgan hoped to push Ottawa and British Columbia into giving it clarity on whether it could build in the western province.
In announcing his bill, Black said he hoped it would give the federal government "courage, conviction and will" to get the pipeline built. He noted that the bill was seconded by Sen. Richard Neufeld — appointed as a Conservative after serving as British Columbia's minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources under Liberal premier Gordon Campbell — and that it enjoyed widespread support in the red chamber.
Two amendments, introduced by Liberal Sen. Lillian Dyck, saying the bill shouldn't be seen as abrogating or derogating existing Indigenous rights and noting current legal actions by Indigenous peoples asserting they had not been properly consulted or given their required consent over the pipeline project affecting their lands, were defeated 39 to 29.
In the end, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 54 to 15, with six senators abstaining.
"The Trans Mountain project is in the benefit of all Canadians," Black said. "If this bill passes, [it's] the federal government, and the federal government alone who regulates development of the process.... Any other jurisdiction, whether municipal or provincial, has no authority whatsoever.
"...No province is above the interests of all Canadians, and this bill ensures that."
The National Energy Board recommended the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2016, subject to 157 conditions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government announced it was green-lighting the project later that year.
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But subsequent legal disputes and the formation of the NDP-Green supported government in B.C. have hampered conditions for the project.
B.C. Premier John Horgan's government announced Tuesday that it was commencing legal action in Alberta to declare unconstitutional that province's legislation, Bill 12, "Preserving Canada's Economic Prosperity Act."
Bill 12, which has received royal assent but has yet to be proclaimed, gives the Alberta government the ability to cut off its supply of natural gas, refined fuels, and crude oil. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has not specifically outlined under what conditions she would invoke the act.
The bill could cause significant disruption and irreparable harm by threatening human health and safety, the province said, and if Alberta sought to restrict shipments B.C. would seek an injunction and claim damages.
Horgan's government has also begun legal action in B.C. asking the court whether the province has the authority to regulate heavy oil shipments by issuing permits — tipping its hand on how it plans to stifle the flow of diluted bitumen.
"It's very interesting," Notley told a news conference in Edmonton Tuesday. "On one hand they don't want our oil and on the other hand they're suing us to give them our oil."
Notley said she is "reasonably confident" Canada will meet Kinder Morgan's deadline.
Back in April, in response to the ultimatum, Trudeau announced he was instructing Finance Minister Bill Morneau to initiate formal financial discussions with Kinder Morgan to remove the uncertainty hanging over the Trans Mountain project.
Last week, Morneau said Ottawa was prepared to "provide indemnity" to the pipeline's investors.
Trudeau also said, however, that his government would be "actively pursuing legislative options" to assert and reinforce the federal government's jurisdiction, "which we know we clearly have."
The federal government, however, has yet to do so.
Wednesday morning, the Liberal House leader's office was unable to say whether it would support Black's bill. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr's office also declined to comment.
"We continue to consider all options, including legislative options," Alexandre Deslongchamps said in an email.
Black said he doesn't know whether Grit MPs will support his private member's bill but he is encouraging the Liberal government to adopt it as its own.
"That would get it done," the senator said. "That is what I hope, and I think it is more than me, I think it is what senators hope and I think it is what the majority of Canadians hope."
The government, however, said it doesn't know when Black's bill will be up for debate in the House. It could possibly be faster for the Liberals to table their own bill.
Black said he remains concerned the country's response to the pipeline project will discourage future investors from taking up shop in Canada.
"Canada is becoming a country where projects come to die," he said.