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It’s no time for the Alberta oil and gas industry to celebrate, even with the Trudeau government’s new and hopefully improved approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project.
The approval is a positive step, but we know how quickly a court challenge or angry protest can thwart a worthy project.
No one has yet cracked the new code on how best to proceed with major oil and gas projects in an orderly fashion, which is why Edmonton’s Amarjeet Sohi, the Trudeau government’s minister of natural resources, was in a reflective mood after his government’s big TMX announcement.
Sohi finds himself thinking about what it’s going to take in the modern world to proceed with oil and gas projects. He’s reflecting, he said, about “what we need to do in order to ensure our energy sector remains a source of well-paying middle-class jobs, and what do we need to do in order to ensure that good projects are able to move forward.”
I caught up with Sohi as he headed to the Ottawa airport. He recalled how he was home in Edmonton last August when the Federal Court of Appeal quashed his government’s initial TMX approval. “It was a disappointing decision to all of us but I think it was also a realization that we all needed to grapple with — that for good projects to move forward you can’t have the old process of how we deal with Indigenous communities and how we protect our environment.”
The court’s rejection firmed up his resolve to get things right, Sohi said.
In the new consultation process, he had 48 meetings with Indigenous communities, meeting with close to 65 Indigenous leaders. In total, 13 government departments took part. Sohi said the government has now come up with a comprehensive plan of action for all the issues identified by Indigenous communities, everything from lessening impacts on the southern resident killer whale to partnering on marine safety.
“I have tried to figure out the best way of doing this process and I am confident that we landed in the right place.”
The goal was to follow the court’s ruling to do as much as possible to engage First Nations in a meaningful two-way dialogue, Sohi said. When accommodating a First Nations request was not possible, Sohi said the government was clear and transparent turning down the ask. “That level of conversation and transparency reduces the risk of somebody taking you to court. You have a good record to defend.”
The approval buys Sohi some credit in Alberta. Our oil-and-gas sector has been rightly skeptical of Bill C-69, the Trudeau government’s convoluted, over-reaching new industrial assessment process, and it’s been justifiably outraged about discriminatory Bill C-48, which singles out and bans the transport of Alberta crude oil in tankers off the northwest B.C. coast.
But the TMX announcement turned things around, with the green lobby now outraged, crying hypocrisy that the Liberals would approve an oil pipeline one day after they declared we’re in the middle of a so-called Climate Emergency.
Alex Doukas, a Canadian researcher who works to stop fossil fuel investment at a Washington D.C. organization, Oil Change International, tweeted out: “More accurate Trudeau presser: ‘We need to mortgage the future to get rich today.’ On the heels of a climate emergency declaration, this tar sands pipeline approval is gross.”
In response to such criticism, much of it driven by U.S.-funded activists like Doukas, Sohi said he understands the anxieties of folks deeply concerned about the environment. He wants to assure them that TMX doesn’t compromise Canada’s ability to meet its climate change commitments. Alberta will continue to abide by the 100 megaton cap per year on carbon dioxide emissions, Sohi said.
My own abiding concern is not only about TMX advancing, but whether private industry will be able to thrive in Canada and build the $500 billion in projects the Liberals hope to see in the next decade. After all, the federal government can’t salvage every project crushed by red tape and by activist courts. It can’t buy out every project and make them all national priorities.
I’ll leave you with Sohi’s response to this concern.
The government hopes to take what was learned with the new TMX consultation and make it standard practice, so as not to repeat past failures, he said. “Yes, it’s more time-consuming. Yes, it’s more resource-intensive and it has more focus, but that’s the way to move forward on these projects. Otherwise you’ll end up in the court and you’ll end up wasting more money and more resources in the long term.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019