A former Alberta energy minister says that building the Trans Mountain pipeline will require the federal government to provide military support against what he calls "eco-terrorists" who will continue to block the project.
Rick Orman, a longtime Conservative politician in Alberta, said Ottawa's efforts to solve the ongoing dispute over the $7.4-billion project — including this weekend's trilateral meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the two feuding premiers — has been a lot of political "ragging the puck."
What's missing, he told CBC's Edmonton AM, is any indication from the federal government as to how it's going to deal with the anti-pipeline protesters.
"How do you practically get that done [building the pipeline] with eco-terrorists, nationally and internationally, who are going to chain themselves to graders and backhoes?" Orman said Monday.
"Morneau and Trudeau and Notley and Horgan can talk all they want, and [they] can do Supreme Court references, but in the end are they going to send the military in to make sure this happens if there's demonstrations to stop it?"
Kinder Morgan announced last week it has suspended non-essential activities and related spending on the project, and set a deadline of May 31 for the provincial and federal governments to resolve the myriad legal and political issues barring it from proceeding.
Following his Sunday meeting in Ottawa with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan, Trudeau said the federal government will be taking financial and legislative actions to ensure the pipeline is built.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau will initiate formal financial discussions with Kinder Morgan "the result of which will be to remove the uncertainty overhanging the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project," Trudeau said.
But Orman said Trudeau's strong words might not be enough to convince Kinder Morgan that the pipeline would be able to proceed unhindered.
"I think we're naive to believe that even if John Horgan tells the people of B.C. that he has no choice but to support the pipeline, that doesn't mean that the Tides Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation are not going to fund efforts to stop the pipeline," Orman said.
Both of those U.S. organizations have been linked to financially backing environmental activists in Canada.
"I don't see anything that is going to stop the environmentalists, other than the threat of enforcing jurisdiction, militarily asserting jurisdiction."
Before he was elected in 1986 as a Calgary MLA in the Alberta legislature, Orman served as an executive assistant to energy ministers in Peter Lougheed's Progressive Conservative government. After his election, Orman held three separate cabinet positions, including energy minister for Don Getty's government from 1989 to 1992.
Orman said he is wary of Notley's plan to invoke legislation that would turn off the oil taps to British Columbia, saying it is "viscerally" the right reaction but has potential to result in a Supreme Court challenge that could backfire on Albertans.
The province is expected table a bill Monday that Notley described as a way to allow her government to "deploy resources in a way that get the best return for Alberta."
Orman said members of Lougheed's caucus often supported similar measures to assert jurisdiction.
"Lougheed always saw that for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction," he said. "And if it brings unintended consequences to Albertans — maybe a constitutional reference that then erodes provincial jurisdiction on resources — that would be a nightmare."
Orman said the environmental consequences of the pipeline are important, but stressed that those concerns have already been dealt with by the National Energy Board in its hearings and approvals.
"To me, it's now a balance of economic development and preserving the environment," he said.
"For the environmentalists, they've made their Hobson's choice. It's no pipeline."