Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his finance minister will start “formal financial discussions” with Kinder Morgan and explore all legislative options to save the $7.4-billion pipeline expansion project.
“The construction will go ahead,” Trudeau said Sunday, without divulging many details, including how much the federal government could float to keep the Alberta-to-British Columbia pipeline project alive.
B.C. Premier John Horgan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met with Trudeau in his office for nearly two hours Sunday, following an impasse on the Trans Mountain project. But the three were still unable to agree on the method of moving diluted bitumen from Alberta to the port of Vancouver.
Kinder Morgan is threatening to pull out of the project by May 31 if the provinces and federal government do not reach an agreement, but Trudeau is hoping Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be able to “remove the uncertainty overhanging the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.”
Despite the number of First Nations communities that have a stake in the project – whether they have negotiated benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan or have been protesting at the Burnaby construction site – there were no Indigenous leaders at the meeting on Sunday.
A number of First Nations chiefs have said Indigenous rights have been forgotten in the inter-government quarrelling over the pipeline.
But Trudeau said the approval process has included “the most extensive consultation with Indigenous communities across this country that we’ve ever seen” and that his government continues consulting with those groups.
“This specific meeting was very much about bringing together two premiers who have very clear differences in approaches and, particularly, impressing upon British Columbia that the federal government will be exerting its constitutional authority to move forward on projects in the national interest that cross provincial boundaries,” he said.
“I continue to engage with Indigenous leaders of all different areas and roles. This is something that we continue to be committed to – working with Indigenous peoples on building a better, more sustainable future for all Canadians is at the heart of what this government does.”
Trudeau noted that, to date, 43 First Nations have negotiated benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan, and more than 30 were from B.C.
“I would also suggest that there is not a homogenous position on this issue amongst Indigenous communities,” said Notley.
“There are a number of key Indigenous leaders who are in favour of this pipeline going through.”
A number of B.C. groups in opposition to the project, including Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robert are expected to hold a press conference on the matter Monday.
Trudeau said his government is also “actively pursuing legislative options” to move ahead with construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Neither Horgan nor Notley would comment on those options.
Trudeau has long insisted the project is within federal jurisdiction and that Horgan’s government has no authority to block it – a claim Horgan wants the courts to evaluate, and one with which he says he plans to press ahead.
Notley said her province and Ottawa had agreed on a plan to “eliminate” investor risk surrounding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project – a commitment she said ensures the pipeline “will be built,” although she refused to provide details.
“The federal government, along with the government of Alberta, has commenced discussions with Kinder Morgan to establish a financial relationship that will eliminate investor risk,” Notley said.
“I’m quite confident that should these discussions end successfully, that the pipeline will be built – and that is good, because the pipeline is in the national interest.”
With files from The Canadian Press