Trudeau defends anti-pipeline Liberal candidate, reaffirms commitment to Trans Mountain

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today defended recruiting a known anti-pipeline campaigner to run for the Liberal Party in Quebec, saying there's room for ideological diversity in the party's ranks.

Liberals in the Montreal-area riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie nominated Steven Guilbeault — a household name in Quebec, where he is known for his environmental work and ardent opposition to pipelines — to carry the party's banner in the NDP-held seat in the fall election campaign. Trudeau gave him a hero's welcome with a high-profile campaign launch event in Montreal on Wednesday.

The federal Conservatives have said Guilbeault's candidacy reveals Trudeau's "true colours" with respect to the country's natural resources sector.

"Canadians have a broad range of views on a lot of different issues and one of the important things for us is to make sure that we're listening to the voices of Canadians, to the preoccupations of Canadians," the prime minister said today. "We need to make sure we're gathering together voices from all different perspectives right across the country."

Trudeau said Guilbeault will not dictate the environmental policies of the federal Liberal Party, and Guilbeault's opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion will not deter a Liberal government from moving ahead with the $7.4 billion project that will move oil from Alberta to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C.

Rather than abandon the project after a stunning court loss, Trudeau said his government redoubled its consultation efforts with Indigenous peoples and added new conditions for protecting marine life to ensure the pipeline is actually built.

"We've been very, very clear as a government, in buying the pipeline and moving forward with the pipeline in a right way, that we believe in getting our resources to new markets and investing those profits in a cleaner future," Trudeau said. "And that is something that all Canadians can understand and all Canadians can get behind,"

Terry Reith/CBC News
Terry Reith/CBC News

In approving the project for a second time last month, the prime minister promised any profits generated by Trans Mountain will be invested in clean energy projects.

Trudeau toured the Edmonton terminal of the Trans Mountain pipeline Friday and championed his government's approval of the expansion line, saying Liberals are prepared to support natural resources projects while also taking action on climate change. He said he understands Alberta needs new customers for its product, as the U.S. — basically Canada's only existing customer — is in the midst of its own oil boom.

Trudeau has faced much criticism in the western provinces over his perceived disdain for the energy sector and his government's controversial overhaul of the environmental assessment process through C-69 — legislation critics maintain will make building new projects much more of a challenge. C-48, legislation that bans oil tankers from the northern B.C. coast, also has been a source of much frustration for oilpatch boosters.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Canadians shouldn't be fooled by the prime minister's "phoney photo-op" with workers at the Trans Mountain plant.

"Wednesday he celebrated the nomination of a well-known anti-energy activist as his star candidate. Trudeau has shown his true colours and wants to 'phase out' (his words!) Canada's energy industry as fast as he can," the leader tweeted, citing a remark Trudeau made at a 2017 town hall, when he suggested Alberta's oilsands will have to be "phased out" over time as the country transitions to a cleaner energy mix.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said federal oil and gas policies threaten the very foundations of the federation because they've stirred up separatist sentiment in his province.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of Canada's premiers in Saskatoon Thursday, Kenney said the feeling of alienation is real.

"This is not just some random political opinion," Kenney said. "We had at least two credible pollsters in the past three months indicate between 50 and 60 per cent support for the principle of a potential secession from the federation.

"I don't think Albertans are actually ready to do that, I think they believe in this country, but that's a way that they are expressing a truly profound sense of alienation. And all they ask for is fairness within the federation."

Trudeau said Friday it's Kenney and other conservative-minded premiers who are fuelling national disunity.

"We do not have to pit one concern of the country against another," Trudeau said. "Unfortunately, conservative politicians are choosing to play a high degree of politics, including bringing up threats to national unity, which we categorically reject. All Canadians right across the country want to see us move forward with a growing economy that also protects the future of our kids and grandkids."

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