A modest proposal to defuse the looming constitutional and national unity crisis caused by Western Canadian pipeline plans

Posted on February 16, 2018, 1:21 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Protesters opposed to expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline in Vancouver last fall. (Photo: William Chen, Creative Commons.) Below: Police and protesters square off in Burnaby, near Vancouver, where the terminus of the existing KM Pipeline is located. (Photo: Mark Klotz, Creative Commons).

It sure looks as if we have a full-blown constitutional and national unity crisis brewing here in Western Canada over Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project.

As is well known, the provincial governments of Alberta and British Columbia are deeply entrenched into positions for and against the $7.4-billion megaproject, the former in favour and the latter against.

While there’s a certain amount of grandstanding on both sides, the underlying issues about the right of one province to export its products and protect its economy, and the right of another to protect its environment and its economy are very serious, and could have consequences for the country that go well beyond a boycott of British Columbia’s excellent wines by the government of Alberta.

Hopefully we’re now past the point at least where this just seems like a faintly ironic oddity because both governments happen to be of the NDP persuasion.

If people in Alberta imagine the overwhelming opposition to this pipeline in Metropolitan Vancouver and on Vancouver Island is just going to go away, or that this project let alone others can be shoved up the noses of these Coastal British Columbians without harmful consequences to the country, they must be smoking pre-legal pot from the Kootenays. The political consequences are real, by the way, regardless of the strength of Alberta’s constitutional case.

The same can be said for British Columbians who have persuaded themselves that Albertans can be convinced or forced to sacrifice their provincial economy for an economic and environmental vision a majority of citizens here are frankly skeptical about. This is true, by the way, whether or not we are in the process of transitioning to a worldwide low-carbon market.

So how can we complete this project, which an elite consensus in Alberta and Ottawa has now concluded is the only way for the province’s and the country’s economies to prosper, while ensuring Coastal British Columbians can trust that it doesn’t present a close to existential threat to the environmental health of their coast, and the planet?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal who campaigned as a friend of the environment, has stated unequivocally that the project is necessary for the wellbeing of the national economy. He vowed that, “we’re going to ensure that pipeline gets built.”

How can he persuade British Columbians opposed to the pipeline to believe his corollary promise that “we’re going to get our resources to market safely and securely”?

Additional important questions spring to mind:

Canadians have committed to reconciliation with our First Peoples. How is the push to complete this project without further consultation with them consistent with that promise?

If the waters of the Salish Sea are under grave threat, as many coastal British Columbians passionately believe, and the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline has never gone longer than four years without some kind of spill, how can anyone trust this company to protect our Canadian West Coast?

If we wait too long – whether the cause of the delay is constitutional or not – how can Albertans be confident the publicly traded U.S. company that owns the line won’t just walk away from the project to protect its investors, an outcome widely and sincerely believed to be deeply harmful to our economy?

How could we square this circle?

Well, if an expanded pipeline capable of carrying diluted bitumen from north central Alberta to the West Coast is essential to the health of the national economy, and the survival of Alberta’s, then the federal government should build it and run it.

That’s not a perfect plan. It certainly wouldn’t persuade the most bitter foes of the project.

But it would go a long way to reassure both British Columbians and Albertans, including those of Indigenous heritage, regardless of their points of view on the specifics of the project.

It would ensure meaningful financial and environmental accountability. It would protect good jobs, with fair wages, and adequate staffing to protect the environment along the way and on the coast.

It could holistically include environmental and coastal protections in the overall scope of the project without the temptation to cut safety corners to pad the bottom line.

It would restore to our national government partial influence over an essential industry it foolishly gave up when the Conservative government of prime minister Brian Mulroney partly privatized PetroCanada, a job that was completed by the Liberals under Paul Martin. It would make it possible to ensure our oil sands activities did not trash our climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and international climate change measures yet to come.

It would reassure Canadians outside Alberta this isn’t just a boondoggle to enrich a few well placed, U.S. based corporate bosses.

It would ensure the environmental and economic wellbeing of two Canadian provinces and our West Coast weren’t left in the hands of a private Texas corporation with a shaky environmental record.

Nor would this deprive the private sector of its take. Private companies would still be needed to dig the trenches and weld the steel. But it would make it far more likely the project was properly built and run in the interests of all Canadians, which is what we keep being told this is all about.

Of course, we all know that even if there weren’t a plausible argument it’s too late in the case of the Kinder Morgan project, this idea is just, if you’ll pardon the expression, a pipe dream. In the Canada of 2018, this sensible, national approach would never be considered for two seconds.

Just remember, though, that is the result of more than 30 years of neoliberal propaganda and corporate capture of our governments, not anything to do with the best way to run a pipeline, let alone a country.

Just a generation or two ago, this idea at least would have been on the table. It’s no longer possible in Canada? Pity.

So fasten your seatbelts. And don’t be fooled. This is not going to be as easy or free of consequences as you have been promised. More than just a few bottles of wine are going to get broken.

27 Comments to: A modest proposal to defuse the looming constitutional and national unity crisis caused by Western Canadian pipeline plans

  1. Keith McClary

    February 16th, 2018

    My modest proposal is to pipe dilbit west on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and BC wine east on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

    Reply
  2. Ron

    February 16th, 2018

    Let me fix that for you…….
    “Well, if an expanded pipeline capable of carrying diluted bitumen from north central Alberta to the West Coast is essential to the health of the national economy, and the survival of Alberta’s, then the federal government should build” a modern refinery in Alberta.

    There will be no expanded bilbit shipping through BC.
    Remember Clayoquot Sound? …. the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. And that was a long way from Vancouver.
    You can’t arrest 1 million people.

    Reply
    • Curtis in Calgary

      February 16th, 2018

      Upgrade it in Alberta. Don’t know why this is continually dismissed. Constructions jobs. Maintenance jobs. Upgrader costs money but upgraded oil is a known commodity and fetches higher price.

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        February 16th, 2018

        Of course it makes more sense to upgrade it in Alberta. Anything else, as certain people who say otherwise nowadays used to argue, is “shipping jobs down the pipeline.” I believe this is continually dismissed because the U.S. oil industry wants to use its Gulf Coast refineries to full capacity while they are still above the water line and, in Alberta and the PMO, what the oil industry wants obviously goes. DJC

        Reply
      • Bob Raynard

        February 17th, 2018

        Another factor could be Alberta getting ‘blamed’ for the greenhouse gases released by the upgrading.

        I am disillusioned with the greenhouse gas accounting system. It blames (I can’t think of a better word) the jurisdiction where the gas is released, rather than the end user. As a result, as I understand it, the ships transporting goods from China don’t count on anyone’s pollution list as they are not released in any jurisdiction. Likewise greenhouse gases released during refining as blamed on the home of the refinery, rather than who eventually benefits from the refined product.

        Reply
    • Farmer Brian

      February 16th, 2018

      Ron the recently completed Sturgeon Refinery processes 80000 barrels a day and cost $9.3 billion to build. The Trans Mountain expansion will transport 590000 barrels a day. Using these numbers we could estimate that a large enough refinery to process all of the oil slated for this pipeline would cost $68.8 billion. Are you ready for government to commit that amount of your tax dollars to the project? How many years do you think it would take to build? Judging by the number of years from initial conception to completion for the Sturgeon Refinery it would take close to a decade imo. Then you still need pipelines to send the product to market.

      David, as for your assertion that the federal government should have built the pipeline, really? They can’t even pay their employees properly, how many years has the government been trying to decide on a new fighter jet? As far as building the pipeline it would still be done by a private contractor. Your assertion that if government did it, it would be done properly certainly highlights the difference in how you and I view the world. Enjoy your day

      Reply
      • anonymous

        February 16th, 2018

        “[The government] can’t even pay their employees properly….”

        This happened because the Harperites replaced functioning inhouse pay systems with the privatized ‘Phoenix’ pay system, which is seriously broken. It will cost taxpayers almost a billion dollars to fix that Harper mess. Think of it as a Harper ideological poison pill.

        Your slip is showing Farmer_B.

        Reply
      • Pogo

        February 16th, 2018

        I can hardly wait until you defend the borderline slavery that still exists in Alberta courtesy of your Kenney’s policy of “temporary” foreign (ick) “workers”. I mean if we’d left it up to him you’d be pumping twice that volume and his mannish bellicosity would have magically brought all the naysayers to heal in fear of his peonage army! Right? Fighter jets? Only Norway can afford those. I think we should expropriate all farm land and then sell it to multi national conglomerates. Then we could use the proceeds to by submarines! *sigh*

        Reply
      • Bob Raynard

        February 17th, 2018

        The $68 billion figure is not as unattainable as it sounds. The government could set up a crown corporation to build and run the upgrader, then issue bonds to raise the funds. Canada has a population of more than 30 million; 68 billion works out to be a bit more than $2000 each. Obviously a lot of people don’t have that amount of money to invest, but other investors could pick up the short fall. Bond issues backed by the government do tend to be popular.

        Reply
  3. February 16th, 2018

    And, darn! Where is that old Heritage fund, to help us buy into and build that pipeline? Or, per earlier poster Ron, to build the Alberta upgrade refinery? Alas, there are consequences to making bad political decisions…

    Reply
  4. rumleyfips

    February 16th, 2018

    NO,No,No. Your proposal, like all Albertan proposals reveals the unwillingness of Albertan’s to take any personal responsibility for their actions. If Alberta really needs the business, refine the tar in downtown Calgary and clean up after yourselves. Or, build , own and maintain the pipeline including performance bonds sufficient to pay for the inevitable damage in British Columbia.

    No personal responsibility; no pipeline Rachel.

    A Canadian from Nova Scotia.

    Reply
    • Geoff Peters

      February 16th, 2018

      Well said. From a British Columbian who is looking at the ocean whilst writing this.

      Reply
  5. Political Ranger

    February 16th, 2018

    First, Kinder-Morgan is a corporation owned and run by the Enron executives and owners who weren’t jailed. There is no benefit derived from association to anything these criminals do.
    Second, this pipe is a 40-50 year project. There are no economic analysis that show this project as profitable over it’s projected lifetime. Without massive public subsidies. Are you starting to smell something?
    Third, the idea that the Alberta economy hangs on the thread of shipping dilbit west is ludicrous on it’s face! The whole petro-industry is less than 10% of provincial GDP nowadays. There are serious and credible doubts about the historic Alberta petro-business model going forward given the costs of carbon and the costs of the unmanaged liabilities of 80 years of abandoned wells and other petro-infrastructure. With or without this pipe (dream) the days of the petro-industry being a significant economic driver in Alberta are over.
    Yeah, that smell? It’s not the smell of a fresh new day dawning, it’s the stench of cowardly politicians sucking up to a moribund and irresponsible industry desperately scrabbling for a last few pieces of the common-wealth.

    Reply
  6. David

    February 16th, 2018

    The current pipeline controversy is real, but is exacerbated by the reliance of the BC government on 3 Green MLA’s for it to stay in power. The previous BC government also had reservations about the pipeline, but was eventually persuaded to go along with it. Lost in the controversy, a recent poll actually shows almost a majority of people in BC – 49% support it, with 44% opposed. While I am sure the geographic breakdown of support and opposition is stark, this does show BC is not as opposed to it, as is portrayed.

    While opposition is strong in some areas, provincially the political consensus is fragile at best or non existent. It is possible that the reaction from Alberta may galvanize more people in BC to support their government, but it is also possible that those whose opinions do not quite align with their government might start to question their government for inflaming the situation.

    While this is a hill for the BC Greens to die on, increasing Federal and Alberta pressure on BC may lead the Premier of BC to try find a way out of this mess. It may mean that while the Government of BC will still not support the pipeline, it will at least limit its opposition only to legal means. At this point that may be enough to satisfy Alberta and the Federal governments and is probably why the Alberta government is currently holding back on further retaliation against BC. Intractable conflicts are not easily resolved, but continuing this fight and escalating it will hurt everyone, so there is an incentive for everyone to try and resolve this.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 16th, 2018

      The important point, as is clearly seen in the linked Vancouver Sun story, is that opposition is overwhelming in Metro Vancouver, where the line terminates, and on Vancouver Island. The consensus is fragile only in an electoral sense. This issue is not going away. DJC

      Reply
  7. February 16th, 2018

    Oh gosh yes, this is a wonderful solution because of the excellent historical record of the federal government running this type of business (or any type of business).

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      February 19th, 2018

      You mean like public schools, healthcare, universities, police, roads and highways, parks…oh I give up!

      Reply
  8. William Prettie

    February 16th, 2018

    Alberta has more sunshine per day than almost any other region in Canada. Capture it turn it into electricity and send it anywhere you want. Oil is dead! Sunshine is not!

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      February 19th, 2018

      Alberta also has the great engineering schools to research and implement this idea. Problem is, they’re currently captured by the oil and gas industry.

      Reply
  9. watty

    February 16th, 2018

    not a lawyer, but as a literal reading of the BNA:
    All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.”

    says the product is admitted “to” the province, which the pipeline does not do, the dilbit is going “through” the province, and so is not inter provincial trade.
    Yes/no??

    Reply
  10. jerrymacgp

    February 16th, 2018

    There are many people who are so implacably opposed to not just this one pipeline, but any pipeline carrying fossil fuels from anywhere to anywhere, they will take whatever action, lawful or not, that might be necessary to stop it. A lot of them live in Vancouver and on the Island. I suspect we’ll see folks laying down on the road in front of trackhoes and bulldozers to keep them from the pipeline route. The law and the Constitution might be on Alberta’s side, but realpolitik isn’t. I think it’s more and more unlikely this one will ever get built. K-M will probably just walk away from the project, the way TCP walked away from Energy East.

    Maybe someone will propose a pipeline to Prince Rupert. It’s too far from Vancouver for those protesters to go up & protest without burning gallons of fossil fuels to get there, which would seriously dent their credibility. Also, not very many people live there, compare to Greater Vancouver.

    Reply
  11. Brett

    February 16th, 2018

    I can well understand some of the issues in BC though I do not sympathize with them.

    We lived in Burnaby when the pipeline breached years ago. We know people who had to leave their homes for 18 months. It is a real issue for them because it has happened in the past. In Burnaby and in other locations. There is still a fair amount of resentment about this leak and how it was handled. it was clearly not monitored properly. In fact, many of the pipeline leaks that have been reported as of late were not discovered by the firms pipeline monitoring systems. They were discovered by residents. Including the leak in Ft. Mac. This speaks volumes to me of the level of operational safety that is currently in place. Clearly it needs to be enhanced in the short term.

    The oil stRsge tanks are litter ally across the street fro a large high school, an elementary school, and a shopping centre. The City of Burnaby will no doubt have to upgrade their fire and emergency systems.

    We need this pipeline and it is in the national interest. I think that Notley is doing a superb job on this file. She is clearly working with, and has the support, of the industry. Just as she did when she announced the new environmental, or should I say an environmental policy. Kenney is looking like a bit of a buffoon these days. As if cutting our oil and gas supplies supply to BC would not hurt Alberta and Albertans as much as it might British Columbins. Don’t forget that Horgan is in a box. He has a sim minority Gov’t holding on by a thread and dependent on the support of the Green Party. His position is as much about holding on to power as it is to the environment.

    D

    Reply
  12. Sassy

    February 16th, 2018

    David, I like your idea, but I still think we’re putting too much focus on a pipeline. Kinder Morgan needs to pull the plug so we can move to discussing alternatives and a more promising future.

    As for a government pipeline, you’re right, most people no longer trust these out-of-country mega-corporations to be accountable to the local communities in which they operate. If local people were hired to build and operate the pipeline, long-term safety would be utmost on their minds. The government could require products be made in Canada only. Work and product inspections could be increased. Potential whistle-blowers who find defects or see shortcuts taken, could be protected and encouraged. This is assuming the pipeline is financially profitable for Canadians for many, many years and is not just lining the pockets of the multinational, extractor companies.

    I still think the bitumen pellet patent is going to be a game-changer for the tarsands (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/bitumen-balls-pellets-pipelines-rail-train-transport-energy-alberta-technology-1.4277320). Perhaps the federal and provincial governments could promote this research and build a new type of production facility at source. Much of the expertise and many of the skilled workers from the new Sturgeon Refinery build could possibly be put to good use on a bitumen pellet project or a more traditional bitumen refinery.

    Reply
  13. February 18th, 2018

    Worth the long read:

    Whose law is really an ass in the Kinder Morgan dispute?
    by Martyn Brown, The Georgia Straight
    https://www.straight.com/news/1033636/martyn-brown-whose-law-really-ass-kinder-morgan-dispute

    “This dissertation is not intended for casual readers with only a passing interest in the pipeline controversy that now threatens to do so much harm. It is rather intended to put comments, quotes, and arguments on the record that I believe are material to a deeper understanding of the moral, legal, and political considerations warranting serious discussion.”

    Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals’ public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009.

    Reply
    • February 21st, 2018

      Thanks for the excellent link, !? That was a very worthwhile read. I can only say !!
      DB

      Reply
  14. David B

    February 21st, 2018

    Kinder Morgan is in the business of making money. A large reason why this pipeline will never be built is the fact that global warming is going to require all countries to take action on global warming long before the pipeline can come close to being economical or face an unlivable planet where no one will survive.

    Even oil companies and transporters of oil products know that continued oil use will doom us. And more importantly for this proposed project banks are not going to lend money that has little prospect of being repaid.

    It’s time to move on to environmentally sustainable projects to produce energy.

    Reply

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