Alberta Politics
What needs to be happening right now along the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, according to almost everyone in Alberta (Photo:TransMountain.com).

Pipeline politics in Canada circa 2018: Destroying the rule of law in order to save it

Posted on May 28, 2018, 12:46 am
10 mins

Obviously, we have to destroy the rule of law in order to save it!

With Kinder Morgan Inc.’s do-or-drop-it deadline set to arrive on Thursday, that seems to be the idea behind the argument advanced by the increasingly furious Canadian pipeline lobby that the Trans Mountain Expansion project must be approved, finally and irrevocably, right now! Anything less, it is frequently asserted, would be a violation of the “rule of law”?

George Orwell, author of 1984, the work that inspired the term, “Orwellian,” broadcasting for the BBC in 1940 (Photo: Public Domain).

As I wrote back in March, someone has clearly done some message testing and determined “rule of law” is a phrase to which Western Canadians will respond positively.

But the assumptions behind it are Orwellian – that is, it is a clear example of the abuse of language analyzed and parodied by the English author George Orwell in 1984 (the book of that title, not the year) and many of his other works of fiction and criticism.

Users of the phrase assert, by inference, that any legal challenge of an approval process that was arguably flawed by political manipulation, exclusion of stakeholders, and haste – in other words, resort by pipeline opponents to the rule of law, the principle that the law must treat everyone the same way – is somehow a violation of the rule of law.

This is preposterous. Nevertheless, thanks to doublethink, another of Orwell’s concepts often practiced in modern Canada through the use of “talking points” and “message boxes,” it seems to be working.

The cover of the 1954 Signet Giant edition of 1984; War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Pipelines are Prosperity, Boilersuits are Sexy!

Obviously, this is starting to register in other quarters. “When all the evidence is in, it is Kinder Morgan’s cheerleaders, not opponents, that actually are undermining the rule of law,” wrote lawyer and environmentalist Will Horter in The Tyee last week. “Their get-an-approval-by-any-means-necessary approach – by rigging review processes, ignoring conflicts of interest, trying to pre-empt review by courts, generally putting their thumb on the scales of justice, and using ‘big lie’ propaganda techniques – is the real threat to the rule of law.”

So, we’re being told we’ll just have to destroy the rule of law in order to save it – an idea that evokes 1968 more than 1948, the former being at the zenith of opposition to the Vietnam War and the latter the year in which Orwell was writing his famous dystopian novel, before switching digits to create the title.

We must not wait for the courts, we are told, because the Trans Mountain Pipeline is essential to the wellbeing of the Canadian economy. Indeed, Alberta’s NDP’s legislation to pressure British Columbia’s NDP government to quit using the courts (viz., the rule of law) to slow down the pipeline, is called the Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act.

Technically, the government of B.C. Premier John Horgan is in court to determine if it has the authority to control or restrict shipment of diluted bitumen through the expanded pipeline. Its past statements make it clear that it opposes the pipeline, however, so the accusation it is attempting to delay the project with the intention of killing it is fair comment.

Perhaps this economic argument for the pipeline is true. But, if it is, what’s the hurry?

Ricardo Acuña (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

We have been warned, of course, that Kinder Morgan, which proposed the $7.4-billion megaproject to the National Energy Board at the end of 2013 and saw it approved with conditions in late 2016, will walk away from the project on Thursday if it can’t be assured it will profitably proceed.

The buzz sure makes it sound as if this shakedown tactic has succeeded, but this hardly makes the case that a legal challenge, or an environmental assessment, can’t be done in the measured fashion required by the rule of law.

If there remains a workable business case for the pipeline – that is to say, a market for what the Texas-based corporation plans to ship through it – then a further delay of six months, or even two years, ought not to prevent it from being built, even if Kinder Morgan doesn’t want to do the building.

The behaviour of the protagonists in this tale, by contrast, suggests different explanations for the hurry:

One, that Kinder Morgan has gotten cold feet, presumably based on an analysis of the future market for what it planned to ship down the TMX, and is looking for either an exit or a guarantee someone other than its shareholders will bear the risk. (That, dear readers, means you.)

Another, that the pressure to act quickly is political – to wit, both the NDP government of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have decided they need a successful start to construction before they go to the polls in 2019.

This is easy to understand in the case of Ms. Notley’s government; not so much so in the case of Mr. Trudeau’s, although there are those ready to argue this case.

Will Horter (Photo: Found on the Internet, originator uncertain).

These are both believable explanations for the company’s ultimatum and the haste at both levels of government to circumvent the rule of law to start the project immediately.

Having tried to drum up hysteria about the need for the pipeline expansion, presumably in the expectation the legal process would result in delay, federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney can hardly change their tune now that it appears the NDP in Edmonton and the Liberals in Ottawa may succeed. Instead, they’re stuck on the sidelines screaming, “Faster! Faster!”

Despite the humour inherent in the two Conservative politicians’ predicament, whether taking up the cry of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party will actually help the Alberta NDP is another matter.

As Parkland Institute executive director Ricardo Acuña argued last week in Edmonton’s Vue Magazine, it would make more sense for Ms. Notley’s government to tell a different story. “Stop spending so much energy and communications resources talking about building pipelines at all costs and allying yourselves with industry front-groups, borderline alt-right groups, and the likes of Jason Kenney and Brad Wall,” Mr. Acuña advised the premier.

“There is definitely strong support in Alberta for getting pipelines built,” he noted, but “there are very few votes there for the NDP.”

“The folks most likely to ardently and vocally support the pipelines are also the same folks who most ardently and vocally oppose the carbon tax, the minimum wage increase, and farm safety legislation,” Acuña argued. “They will never vote NDP, pipeline or no pipeline.”

How the NDP will find votes is by boasting about the things they’ve done that are actually consistent with being New Democrats,” he went on, listing front-line services, fair labour laws, needed infrastructure, human rights, gender equity, and the environment. “That’s the story the NDP needs to be telling if they are serious about re-election, and if they don’t begin telling that story soon, it will be too late.”

Mr. Acuña is right. That’s where the NDP will find the light at the end of the pipeline.

11 Comments to: Pipeline politics in Canada circa 2018: Destroying the rule of law in order to save it

  1. Sam Gunsch

    May 28th, 2018

    Short term politics to get re-elected with extreme pro-oil rhetoric that they can hang on to win Calgary ridings again.
    (my cynical electioneering take, again.)

    Just more AB politicians forced to ignore L/T reality… Cruisin’ for a bruisin’. It’s a shame.

    Kevin Taft EXCERPT: ‘The province, he said, needs to realize that the pipeline will not solve Alberta’s economic problems.

    “Billions of dollars all around the world are being invested to make fossil fuels and oils obsolete, and that over the next couple of decades, that’s going to happen,” Taft said. “And we need to start honestly preparing for that.”’

    EXCERPT: ‘Taft admits that the oil industry is “centrally important to Alberta’s economy,” but he said the province needs to remember former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed’s words that the “interests of the oil industry are not the same as the interests of the people of Alberta.”

    “Unfortunately I think the government sees itself as an agent of the oil industry more than it sees itself as an agent of the ordinary people of Alberta,” Taft said.

    The issue is that the oil industry has a lot of money to “get their message across,” he said.’

    https://www.thestar.com/edmonton/2018/05/27/former-liberal-party-leader-says-pipeline-debate-getting-swept-away-in-hype.html

    EXCERPT: ‘Taft said the shipment of bitumen overseas will not benefit Albertans.

    “They are stripping raw bitumen out of our forests to be upgraded in foreign markets, creating jobs in foreign destinations — leaving behind tens, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars of environmental liabilities that they are not going to pay for,” he said. “So I’m not sold on it.”’

    Reply
  2. May 28th, 2018

    “If there remains a workable business case for the pipeline – that is to say, a market for what the Texas-based corporation plans to ship through it – then a further delay of six months, or even two years, ought not to prevent it from being built, even if Kinder Morgan doesn’t want to do the building.” – David Climenhaga

    “Exactly which Asian countries or refiners have signed long-term contracts to purchase more Alberta bitumen for decades to come? Exactly how much have they committed to pay per barrel delivered?” – Paul McKay, The Energy Mix
    http://theenergymix.com/2018/05/24/exclusive-new-ship-fuel-rules-could-sink-tar-sands-oil-sands-expansion/

    Reply
  3. Farmer Brian

    May 28th, 2018

    One of the most interesting points you make is “then a further delay of six months, or even two years, ought not to prevent it from being built”. If You are Kinder Morgan and you are looking at the number of cases before the court by both the BC government and various Indigenous groups there is no doubt you want some assurances on the timeline. After investing 5 years and over a billion dollars you would hope there is some certainty, but there is not. Personally, I think an export pipeline to the coast is a good idea. I also think Northern Gateway was a better idea. Deeper water port and less population at Prince Rupert. Anyway Justin Trudeau has painted himself into a corner. With many proposed projects falling by the wayside he needs a win. Rachel Notley has also painted herself into a corner. She has declared this pipeline will be built. The Premier has linked her climate leadership plan to getting this pipeline built(a carbon tax that 66% of Albertans still want removed, polling done by Janet Brown for CBC). She has linked a future balanced budget in 2023-2024 to the increased revenues created by the Trans Mountain expansion. She has gone all in. David where do you stand on Alberta funding the pipeline? I think there is a good chance our Alberta government will do this to prevent this project being terminated. Personally I am against government buying the project.

    As for Richard Acuna’s assertion that the strongest supporters of the pipeline are also against the carbon tax, I think he is quite correct. The reality is that at best 25-30% of Albertan’s would be supporters of the NDP and there is also probably another 30% that I would place as strong right of center voters and then the 40% left in the mushy middle. Myself, I will never vote NDP, mainly because of their anti- business outlook and messaging. They talk about the rich paying their fair share. Well a recent article on comparing income taxes in Alberta to the rest of Canada showed that the lower income brackets in Alberta pay the least tax compared to the rest of Canada and that the higher income brackets carry the load even though they also get a good deal in Alberta. So yes he is correct, even if the pipeline goes through I will not vote NDP but I do believe there is a portion of the electorate that will, is it large enough to re-elect the NDP, that is the question. For me there really is no party platform I agree with 100%. I would want no carbon tax, a sales tax, balanced budgets, resource developement, strong social conscience. Alberta party is probably the closest except that they support the carbon tax. Quite a conundrum. Enjoy your day

    Reply
    • Kang the barbarian

      May 28th, 2018

      Farmer Brian: Your last sentence reads: “I would want no . . . strong social conscience.” Would you settle for a weak social conscience or perhaps none at all?

      Perhaps your editor slipped up on that one. Do you really believe, given the last 30 years of unfettered capitalism that you can also have a strong social conscience along with unfettered capitalism? Not much evidence for that, but faith always seems to trump evidence, especially in Alberta.

      Reply
    • St Albertan

      May 28th, 2018

      I’ve been critical of your motives, facts and logic, but with this post you seem to leave a door open to debate. I agree that we should bring our provincial taxes in line with the rest of Canada. Common ground. I agree that we need a strong social conscience. Common ground. So please explain to me why emission based taxes bother you? Are Co2 emissions to any level ok with you? Do you believe that labour on farms should be different than labour in urban construction? Should rural resident voters have more power by vote than urban ones? Should we support wasteful rural infrastructure like paved highways and redundant under-used hospitals at the expense of making sensible policy? Should we elect a pandering rudderless yes man to vandalize what little Ralph the Drunk left him? And you won’t vote for the Rachel Party even though if you and all your phony side kicks ponied up a majority for a sales tax she’s would be the first to jump at it! Why? Because she does what’s right for the place she has been elected to govern! That’s why! You and your’n are pathetic usefull idiots for a right wing that at least 70% of Albertans detest!

      Reply
    • Farmer Dave

      May 29th, 2018

      Farmer Brian, as per your comment noted below, ‘after investing 5 years’ the reality is that Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper were the government in power at that time and did nothing to approve any pipelines built in Canada, never mind Alberta and B.C., or bring any certainty as you noted. Now these
      conservative Clowns are blaming everyone except themselves for a poorly run government during their time.

      You should keep voting these so called conservative clowns into government where they took over the PC Party and turned it into a religious right party, and tax you for it. I don’t believe any of them are PC type of people and they will bring you with bigger than ever deficits, past history shows this. The reality is that Paul Martin (Liberal Party) was the only one, in recent history, that started paying down the debt and bring the deficit under control. It’s to bad he was kicked out as he would have brought Canada into the modern age of business and possibly the best PM Canada may have ever seen.

      Farmer Brian, your message is below:

      If You are Kinder Morgan and you are looking at the number of cases before the court by both the BC government and various Indigenous groups there is no doubt you want some assurances on the timeline. After investing 5 years and over a billion dollars you would hope there is some certainty, but there is not.

      Reply
  4. Geoffrey Pounder

    May 28th, 2018

    “Both the NDP government of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have decided they need a successful start to construction before they go to the polls in 2019. This is easy to understand in the case of Ms. Notley’s government; not so much so in the case of Mr. Trudeau’s.”

    The question is why? Why the fierce, even obsessive, cheerleading for pipelines? Why the bullying and the threats? Why alienate long-time supporters?
    Conservatives wouldn’t vote for Notley even if she built a billion pipelines. No, they’ll vote for the real thing.
    Does Notley really stand a chance at re-election against a united conservative party? Mathematically no such possibility exists.
    Notley was always a one-term premier. Her job was to stand up to Big Oil, put AB on the right track, and show Albertans what principled progressive govt looks like.

    In a blistering polemic (a must-read), Michael Harris also questions Notley’s political calculus.
    “If anything, [Notley] has out-Kenneyed Kenney. It is her own provincial base that will be her undoing. Ndp supporters are not kind to leaders who talk progressivism on the campaign trail and then become corporate cheerleaders in office.”
    • ipolitics.ca/2018/05/24/to-avoid-a-political-divorce-singh-is-going-to-have-to-stand-up-to-notley/

    If Messrs. Climenhaga or Acuña have access to party insiders, insight into this gross miscalculation at NDP HQ would be most welcome.
    This extraordinary chapter in AB politics could take up a book. In the meantime, this reader will settle for hard-hitting journalism condensed into a column on Alberta Politics.

    Reply
  5. Scotty on Denman

    May 28th, 2018

    How does this pitch? TMX is the booby prize that had to look the Kitmat stalkinghorse in the mouth before the bait-and-switch to the obviously superior port—physically, economically, environmentally and politically—Prince Rupert could be affected by a fading HarperCon government.

    However lucky KM might have felt about this turn of events, it looks decidedly less enthusiastic of late. Perhaps the prospect of having its shenanigans—the process-rigging, conflicts of interest, obstruction, cheating and lying—face more exacting scrutiny vis-a-vis a thoroughly contested series of court actions, possibly all the way to the top, has inspired reticence amongst its executives. Even its shareholders look doubtful. So, was it simply that TMX landed in its lap when Northern Gateway died that KM decided to take it on?

    It was an easier decision to make when the three governments involved were also committing exactly the same offences and apparently encouraging the applicant to imitate them. It was even said that Christy Clark owed the single BC Liberal mandate of her own to the flagging NDP contender’s rash decision to condemn TMX to try to regain the 20-point lead blown by a foolish “positive politics” campaign strategy. At least pipeline proponents crowed the election that was the NDP’s to lose was a de facto popular endorsement of TMX which, of course, it was not (it was a default to Christy when the NDP made it clear on campaign it wasn’t prepared to govern).

    How things have changed, including KM’s ability to manipulate the controversy with impunity and complicity with the very authorities assessing its application. The May 31 ultimatum might yet prove the Parthian shot that turns the trend around for TMX, but more likely it is an excuse to avoid scrutiny of its many offences to justice, process and, yes, the rule of law. It still has a Transmountain pipeline to run—not an inconsiderable booby-prize.

    How different things would have turned out if the bait-and-switch had worked and dilbit was piped or railed to Prince Rupert’s gigantic, deep and open to the open ocean harbour, if the feds had made substantive, demonstrable commitments to spill response and industry was required to cover some of this cost. Instead, by the lacklustre ineptitude of Harper’s government, the switch wasn’t made before he was drubbed at the polls, the Kitimat proposal was easily rejected for too many reasons to list —but enough to suppose Kitimat was always a stalkinghorse for Prince Rupert—and KM ended up the booby-prize—right smack in the middle of extremely hostile territory.

    KM would be smart to walk away from dilbit. It still owns the existing TM pipeline suitable for conventional oil. Vancouverites and everyone living on the shores of the Salish Sea, Haro and Juan de Fuca Straits will never accept a seven-fold increase of supertankers, especially if they’re loaded with dilbit. Hopefully somebody will step out of the current melodrama and start looking at workable alternatives like Prince Rupert, more domestic refining capacity, carbon sequestration and diversification of petroleum-products like plastics.

    Reply
    • Yuck

      May 28th, 2018

      I’m surprised that you didn’t choke to death typing that! Kudos! Please log in to this site every day you live fuel free. Oopy! Did I forget fossil? Yes I did. But you should not. Do you have a car? a Phone? A computer? Do you have a device that runs on any power other than sunlight rainbows and good intentions? How about your cell phone? Is that maybe a bit of a problem? Coltan?

      Reply
      • Lorne Finlayson

        May 28th, 2018

        Please do some basic reading, “Yuck” to find that the proposed dilbit carrying pipeline has nothing for Canadian consumers. Yes, we all use those things and that’s fine, but the dilbit is for export only, says KM. The more I read of David Black’s proposed refinery the more it has attractions but even as I type the Liberal Government of Canada has cut a back room deal with KM. We’ll find out more Tuesday morning then Mr. Trudeau and that smirking S.O.B, Morneau reveal more details to a business group. No, not to Parliament who are responsible to us taxpayers who will be stuck with the bill, while that wiley pair, Mr. Kinder and Mr. Morgan, who barely escaped jail in the Enron catastrophe, fill their pockets with our money.
        For, Mr. Yuck, there has not been a viable business case done by reputable economists for this multibillion dollar (Canadian ) boondoggle. Google respectable economist, Robyn Allan,for one,to see how KM has taken us all to the cleaners.

        Reply

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