Alberta Politics
Pipeliners at work, somewhere, sometime, but not tomorrow (Photo: Found on, source not identified).

National Energy Board ruling on Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion leaves everyone deep in their message boxes

Posted on February 23, 2019, 2:45 am
9 mins

Common sense would suggest the recommendation of the National Energy Board yesterday that Ottawa approve the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project despite significant risks to the environment is a small but significant step toward eventual completion of the controversial multi-billion-dollar megaproject.

But as was already evident in the immediate reaction to the NEB’s announcement in Calgary, that isn’t likely to drive the interested parties out of their message boxes any time soon. Consider this sampling from various news sources:

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley was optimistic, but cautious. “It’s not a victory, but it’s an incredibly important step,” she told reporters. “Many obstacles have been put in our way, and quite clearly we are not done yet.”

United Conservative Party Opposition Leader Jason Kenney said that the decision “doesn’t change anything.” He complained about the NEB’s addition of 16 non-binding recommendations and blamed the NDP, the federal Liberals, the B.C. Government and “U.S. funded” environmentalists for delaying the project.

B.C. NDP Environment Minister George Heyman expressed astonishment that “they found there would be significant impacts on southern resident killer whales, that there would be a catastrophic impact if there was a spill, and they reached the conclusion, astoundingly, that no new conditions were needed.”

Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“We’ll do whatever it takes to protect the things that we love, because no price can be put on the sacred,” said Rueben George of the Tsleil Waututh First Nation, one of the parties to the original legal challenge that resulted in the NEB’s first permit being quashed.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, an Edmonton MP, cautiously indicated a final decision won’t be made by cabinet until consultations with impacted First Nations have been completed.

And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Expect more of the same starting today, only louder.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman (Photo: Facebook).

Ms. Notley’s supporters will argue the NEB recommendation would not have been made without her efforts to seek social license through her government’s climate leadership program, including its carbon levy. “Notley’s diplomacy has delivered results,” said Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan in a Tweet. “Kenney’s phoney machismo is risky.”

Mr. Kenney’s supporters will say the recommendations and the NEB’s acknowledgement the project carries risks of “serious adverse environmental impacts” are proof the social license approach is a failure. Some will darkly grumble that anything short of shovels in the ground by morning and a statement global climate change is a fraud proves there is a malicious conspiracy against Alberta.

Rueben George of the Tsleil Waututh First Nation (Photo: CBC).

Mr. Kenney and his federal counterpart, Andrew Scheer, won’t quite endorse such opinions – but they won’t discourage them either.

Some environmentalists and First Nations opponents of the pipeline will see the process as rigged in favour of TMX and its recommendations dangerously toothless. Like Mr. Heyman, they will vow to fight on in the courts of law and of public opinion.

And the federal Liberals led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will proceed with extreme caution, dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s in the consultations with First Nations demanded by the Federal Court of Appeal.

University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

After all, they know that the huge amount of political and actual capital they have invested in the TMX Project has bought them nothing but hostility and abuse from almost all parties in Alberta while threatening their electoral support in other parts of the country.

That was all well and good, once upon a time, when their reelection in the fall seemed assured. Now? Not so much.

Facing a political crisis wrought by the SNC-Lavalin affair, it seems highly unlikely Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals will risk anything more in the face of the strong possibility of zero benefit anywhere from co-operation with Alberta.

Moreover, as University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach pointed out in an interesting series of Tweets yesterday, the possibility of a victory by Mr. Kenney in the imminent Alberta provincial election puts Mr. Trudeau in a position where continuing to support the pipeline is dangerous for him.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Trudeau sold Ottawa’s purchase of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline and its support for the expansion project, Dr. Leach pointed out, on the strength of Ms. Notley’s practical efforts to build social license.

Dr. Leach reminded his readers of the PM’s words back in the day: “We could not have approved this project without the leadership of Premier Notley, and Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan – a plan that commits to pricing carbon and capping oilsands emissions at 100 megatonnes per year.”

Dr. Leach asked: “What’s Justin Trudeau going to do if, by the time cabinet gets through the required consultations with First Nations communities, Alberta no longer has a carbon pricing policy as it did in 2015? The oil sands cap also remains to be formalized and seems unlikely to be so now.”

It’s an interesting question. The answer in the short term is that the prime minister will almost certainly proceed with extreme caution, at least until the federal election, and possibly until after the U.S. presidential election in the fall of 2020 as well.

If everyone continues to act as expected in the face of that, and the emerging Liberal electoral strategy unfolds as doubtless planned, it could leave forever furious Alberta the victim of its own tantrums.

“For ’tis the sport to have the enginer,” as the Bard observed, “hoist with his own petard … ”

Alas poor Stephen, I knew Mandel

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Having metaphorically tied his shoelaces together, then fallen down, Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel’s lawyers yesterday pleaded with a judge of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench to untangle the knot and send him on his way.

That is to say, having missed deadlines for filing required financial paperwork on his and other MLAs’ candidate nomination elections, knowing full well the penalty was being banned from running for five years, he missed them anyway, was banned from running until the fall of 2023 by Elections Alberta, and now wants the ban overturned.

If the bans on Mr. Mandel and six other candidates aren’t lifted, his lawyers argued, the Alberta Party could be done like dinner. Even if they are, there’s a strong chance it will be anyway.

Mr. Mandel described his case as “very strong.” Others seem to think it’s very weak. Regardless, the judge, Madam Justice Gaylene Kendell, said she will make her decision by the end of next week.

17 Comments to: National Energy Board ruling on Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion leaves everyone deep in their message boxes

  1. Geoffrey Pounder

    February 23rd, 2019

    “Ms. Notley’s supporters will argue the NEB recommendation would not have been made without her efforts to seek social license through her government’s climate leadership program, including its carbon levy. ‘Notley’s diplomacy has delivered results,’ said Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan.

    Spending more than $23 million of Albertans’ hard-earned tax dollars in 2018 on pro-pipeline propaganda didn’t hurt either.
    “Alberta Has Spent $23 Million Calling BC an Enemy of Canada” (The Tyee, 15 Jan 2019)

    A propaganda campaign with scant respect for facts and evidence.
    “False oil price narrative used to scare Canadians into accepting Trans Mountain pipeline expansion” (National Observer, 26-Nov-18)

    J. David Hughes: “Fact-checking Alberta’s pipeline ads” (Edmonton Journal, Feb 20, 2019)

    Notley’s pipeline hysteria is going to sweep the NDP away this spring. Small price to pay if your top priority is pipelines, perhaps. At least Notley’s Big Oil masters will be happy. Maybe Cenovus can find a seat for her on its Board of Directors.
    Only last May Premier Notley celebrated Trudeau’s decision to purchase Trans Mountain by giving her fellow cabinet ministers high fives. A mite premature, some pundits thought. No high fives when the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval a few months later.
    Maybe our Premier learned something?

    P.S. Any word as to whether Stephen Mandel made it to his court hearing on time?

    • Death and Gravity

      February 24th, 2019

      Is it really possibly to be this obtuse?
      If the NDP are defeated this spring, it won’t be because of the pipeline. It will be because 70% of the Alberta electorate has voted for conservative parties in every election since Confederation, except for the last one; and even then the NDP only got 40% of the vote. You pretend to think that there is a luring majority of left/green voters in Alberta who would have endorsed a far more radical agenda. There isn’t. The choice is an NDP government which is taking some steps in the direction of a reasonable future, or a UCP government which will tear up everything positive they have done, and reverse course. And the stakes are high….this is really the last chance to start steering the Titanic away from the iceberg. In another 10 or 20 years, it won’t matter what we do.

      • Political Ranger

        February 24th, 2019

        nailed it !

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        February 24th, 2019

        Death and Gravity wrote: “If the NDP are defeated this spring, it won’t be because of the pipeline.”

        Who said it was? Not me.
        I said “Notley’s pipeline hysteria is going to sweep the NDP away this spring.” Which does not imply that the NDP would win or have a good chance of winning without fuelling pipeline hysteria.

        As I have written countless times:
        “Reality check: A NDP win in 2019 is not on the menu. Notley was always a one-term premier.
        “The numbers indicate UCP victory is inevitable. Mathematically, it is impossible for the NDP to prevail against a united conservative party. Even the NDP’s unprecedented 2015 numbers would not yield such a result.”
        Most pipeline cheerleaders would not vote NDP if Notley built a billion pipelines. Stoking Albertans’ perennial resentment over pipelines and everything else under the sun only helps the UCP.

        Death and Gravity wrote: “You pretend to think that there is a luring majority of left/green voters in Alberta who would have endorsed a far more radical agenda.”

        In 2015 left/green voters endorsed the NDP campaign platform including climate leadership, giving Albertans a fair share on royalties, and opposition to new export pipelines like Keystone XL. Once elected, Notley did an about-face. Despite her unflagging support for the oil industry, the NDP will lose the next election.
        The AB NDP’s obsession with re-election in 2019 has led to short-sighted policy that emulates previous Conservative govts and betrays future generations.

        Notley’s NDP opposed Keystone XL in 2015:
        “[The PCs] squandered Alberta’s natural resource wealth… and have focused only on more export pipelines for unprocessed bitumen – sending our jobs to Texas.”
        The NDP now proposes to send jobs to California, Washington State, and Asia — as well as Texas.

        Death and Gravity wrote: “The choice is an NDP government…”

        Reality check: A NDP win in 2019 is not on the menu. Even you agree that “70% of the Alberta electorate” is staunchly “conservative”. UCP victory is inevitable.
        The only choice for NDP supporters is whether to endorse or repudiate Notley’s oilsands expansion agenda, which prevents Canada from meeting its (inadequate) emissions targets for decades.
        I didn’t vote for oilsands expansion and climate failure in 2015. Not going to vote for disaster in 2019 either.

        Under current leadership, the AB NDP and the federal Liberals will NEVER take us where we need to go.
        AB’s drive for fossil fuel growth is IRREVOCABLE. There is no redemption. No going back. No path from oilsands expansion to lower emissions and Canada’s climate targets. No tweaks of NDP policy can get us to where we need to go.
        You don’t build pipelines and new oilsands projects only to run them for a decade. Oilsands infrastructure, including pipelines, takes decades to recoup its costs.

        My hope is that going into the 2023 election the AB NDP will return to its roots and choose the bold, science-literate leadership AB desperately needs in the 21st century. No way will Notley lead a decimated NDP in 2023.
        That doesn’t imply NDP victory next time. But AB progressives can once more stand on the right side of science and history. Trying to out-conservative the “conservatives” will never, ever be a winning strategy for the NDP.

  2. Jerrymacgp

    February 23rd, 2019

    Re the pipeline decision: one path forward for the Trudeau gov’t, as the new owners of the project, might be to hire SNC to build it … lol ;-).

    Re Mandel: the strongest argument in favour of his position is that it was a purely administrative misstep: he didn’t spend any money on his nomination campaign, so the zero return expense report was a pure paperwork exercise, with no real significance in the electoral process and no concern about improper fundraising or spending. However, the fact it was a zero return is also a mark against him: he & his team could have just signed it all off the day after his nomination was confirmed and gotten it out of the way. Missing the generous deadline was just stupid.

  3. ronmac

    February 23rd, 2019

    Still don’t get how a pipeline is going to help Alberta since most of the troubles in the oilpatch stem from low oil prices. Getting “our oil to the marketplace” will only increase the supply of oil and exert downward pressure on prices.

    Having somebody named “Trudeau” in the PMO doesn’t help matters much either. Like throwing red meat into a pen of starving dogs. Sending a truck convoy to Ottawa and demanding action to help the oilsands doesn’t help other. As if Justin has magical powers to raise the price of oil.

  4. J.E. Molnar

    February 23rd, 2019

    It didn’t take Jason Kenney long to put into play the standard boilerplate responses from the tried and true UCP playbook — yell louder and stamp your feet harder. Employing the usual conservative bromides and tropes, Kenney now feels emboldened heading into the election with the delay of TMX — though perhaps falsely.

    While Alberta and Canada are in a holding pattern on the TMX, perhaps now is the time to take prudent steps to move our resources by rail to refineries in the U.S. and Canada. Oh I forgot— yes Notley has already done that, much to the consternation of Mr. Kenney who apparently for some uncompromising ideological reason, continues to root against Alberta. He’s even gone so far as to threaten to rip up the contracts signed by the current government, if he’s elected premier. For his myopic vision on this file, one can only hope he pays a severe political price come Election Day.

  5. Albertan

    February 23rd, 2019

    It almost seems like “death by delays.” Again, perhaps, it is what is not being said by federal and provincial politicians and what they know about what is stated below, is a ‘letting down easy’ of what is to come or, has already, come.
    Just a few days ago, U.S.-based Devon Energy announced it will be selling off its oilsands assets and going south of the border. Other companies “who have reduced their exposure to the oilsands include” Norway’s Statoil, Arkansas-based Murphy Oil, France’s Total SA, Houston-based ConacoPhillips and Netherlands based Royal Dutch Shell. They are all gearing to lower-cost production. More can be read here about the oil/tar sands ‘weak business case:’
    Another unspoken economic elephant-in-the-room described is “one supertanker port (LOOP) has turned global oil economics upside down,” and again, it is being said, will definitely negatively/already has, affected Alberta oil. and, quote from the article: “There is no business case for an expansion of Alberta’s oil sands/tarsands on the scale needed to justify the Keystone XL and Trans-Mountain export pipelines because of one bare fact: there are zero foreign buyers who today will commit to decades-long purchase contracts for unrefined bitumen at a fixed price of US$80 per barrel.”
    Perhaps, talk is cheap re: keeping up the hope that pipelines will be built, while keeping pipeline supporting voters on a string….understandably due to the folks who still feel that their financial future iis dependent on it.
    What maybe cannot come soon enough is the transition to the $trillion dollar renewable tech revolution which is already happening, from fossil fuel power to renewable energy power (reminiscent of horse power to fossil fuel power) which is being estimated to generate millions of jobs globally.
    If money talks, are we falling behind with not capitalizaing more, on Canada’s massive renewable resources? Will we let foreign interests control our massive renewable resources? We need to be much more strict about that….like Peter Lougheed said about developing resources, “Behave like an owner.”

    • Kang

      February 24th, 2019

      Albertan: thank you for the excellent link to the article about transportation economics and tar sands exports.

      It makes sense for an owner to sell a high quality product into premium world markets. It is a fool’s errand to try doing what the UCP and NDP are claiming to want – nobody really wants a mixture of sand, tar, and solvents at any price these days.

      The NDP should have told Albertans the truth about the Province’s post Klein economic prospects when they took office. Now that the NDP have missed that opportunity, we can only hope that the UCP somehow bungle the election. If they take power Alberta will end up as a rather unpleasant version of Louisiana without the interesting cuisine.

  6. Farmer Brian

    February 23rd, 2019

    Tzeporah Berman said “The reconsideration process failed the most basic public participation standards.” She also said it is not in the public interest and “it will not be built. She certainly didn’t agree with the NEB’s latest decision. With the Trudeau government facing the continuing spectacle of the SNC Lavelin affair and the upcoming trial of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman all in an election year polling numbers in Quebec and B.C. will factor heavily in their decision. Six months ago the re-election of the federal Liberal’s looked like a sure thing, now it would certainly appear they are slipping into minority territory at best. There is nothing for them to gain in the aforementioned provinces by pushing the approval ahead and in my opinion will push this decision past the next election. Enjoy your day.

    • David Climenhaga

      February 24th, 2019

      Thank you, Brian. I’m indeed having a wonderful day. For once we are mostly in agreement. You are right that here is very little to gain for the Liberals to persuade them to push TMX ahead. As for the SNC-Lavalin affair and the Norman trial, it is interesting that the Conservatives are trying to cast the government’s reluctance to comment as evidence of perfidy when there are clear reasons related to the rule of law that that they cannot be completely open, especially in the latter case, which is, as they say, before the courts. As for SNC-Lavalin, it is already unravelling as a scandal. Then there are the truck rallies, both pathetically small and heavily influenced by neo-Nazis, with Andrew Scheer out there cheering on these creeps and their violent rhetoric. Anything’s possible in politics, but I would think a Conservative victory in Ottawa remains a long shot. DJC

      • Farmer Brian

        February 24th, 2019

        David while we both agree that there is little to be gained by the federal Liberal’s pushing ahead with TMX that is where our agreement ends. As far as the SNC Lavelin affair goes, JWR has yet to speak her truth and it is certainly obvious to me she was from her perspective pressured by the PMO to give SNC Lavelin a remediation agreement. I certainly doen’t think this scandal is unravelling. The Vice-Admiral’s case is supposed to go to trial in August and this case in my opinion had a lot to do with Scott Brison retiring from federal politics, a retirement that brought the SNC Lavelin case into the spotlight. The Vice-Admiral’s lawyer Marie Henein is certainly an outstanding lawyer that will leave no stone unturned! One’s view of the truck rally to Ottawa depends on your outlook. From my point of view it was mostly about objections to Bill C-48 and C-69 and the carbon tax and a general dissatisfaction with Justin Trudeau’s policies and governance. To say it was heavily influenced by Neo-Nazis is in my opinion blatantly false. The poor performance to this point by Jagmeet Singh certainly hasn’t helped Andrew Scheer. Guy Caron or Charlie Angus would have been a much more effective choice imo. And again, enjoy your day.

      • Bob Raynard

        February 24th, 2019

        I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the CPC minions were discussing the advisability of Andrew Scheer addressing the rally. Associating himself with the neo-Nazi element of the rallies does come with a bit of a political price. At the same time, I am sure not addressing the crowd would be seen as a betrayal by the pipeline crowd. I wonder if the possibility of losing votes to Maxime Bernier was the deciding factor.

    • Death and Gravity

      February 24th, 2019

      Let me know when Ms. Berman is in a position to influence these outcomes. You are right in this much: why in heck would the government stick their neck our for Alberta, when all they get in return is inconsolable resentment and calumny? Bless your heart.

    • Scotty on Denman

      February 24th, 2019

      I would add to DJC’s response that Ontario has traditionally and fairly reliably counterbalanced its federal partisanship against its provincial. I should think the trend would feature some extra support for the Liberals due to regrets Ontarians feel about electing the odious buffoon Premier Doug Ford who, BTW, will probably insinuate himself into the federal contest to Scheer’s detriment.

      I think one of the harshest thrashings the Liberals are gonna take is in BC but, for all that, a total loss in BC is still only 17 seats. If the Liberals are also wiped out in Alberta and Saskatchewan the total for the three westernmost provinces is still only 25 seats. JT has apparently calculated the likely BC losses are politically affordable, knowing full well the nucleus of opposition to his TMX push is where all but one of his 17 BC seats are: Greater Vancouver—and that opposition could be described as ‘nuclear’ in intensity.

      We’ll see tomorrow (Moon Day) how NDP leader Jagmeet Singh does in his Burnaby by-election bid: if he wins, the prospects of the NDP picking up lost Liberal seats will have improved. I expect the Greens to continue trending upwards and Lower Mainland BC and Vancouver Island remain their best bets. In short, I don’t expect the Conservatives to be the only beneficiaries of Liberal losses in BC. And, again, it doesn’t amount to much in any case.

      I fully agree with DJC that Scheer’s endorsement of the neo-nazi backed truck rally is not an accolade for the Conservatives—in my view it is an astonishingly foolish negative that most Canadians reject categorically. Scheer should have condemned, not embraced, these odious wolf-mutts. Remember, the Cons are not generally loved, are divided, moribund, poorly led and dogged by Scheer’s runner-up competitor for leadership who will certainly drain critical votes away from them. One wonders if Scheer endorsed the anti-immigrant truck rally to stem this leakage of support (Bernier having already welcomed bigots to his own anti-immigrant flag)—but it was jaw-droppingly idiotic for him to do so and yet one more indication that he’s a bad leader of a party with serious internal problems.

      Remember, too, it was Stephen Harper’s niqab ploy that drove the last nail into his losing campaign’s coffin. Canadians generally do not accept racist antics like that and its subsequent association with Trump’s deplorables since Harper’s defeat should have warned Scheer away—indeed, should have advised him to distance himself and his party explicitly, in no uncertain terms.

      That’s a huge factor in the upcoming federal contest and it doesn’t bode well for the Conservatives. Liberal minority? I don’t expect anything close to that.

  7. David

    February 24th, 2019

    It can be dangerous to put all your eggs in one political basket. The Liberals pay more attention to suburban Toronto and Vancouver because even though they do not always reliably vote Liberal, there is a decent chance they can win there – in Fort McMurray or Fort Macleod, not very likely.

    I think winning four seats in Alberta gave the Liberals in the last election gave them a a bit of hope, but the never ending stream of crankiness and cantankerousness coming from Alberta in the last six months has probably caused them to rethink all that. Its kind of like a spouse that only whines and complains, after a while you just tune it out and eventually stop trying to please them. The Yellow Jacket truckers even blew their chance to get a face to face meeting with the Prime Minister with their over the top comments about immigration and the Prime Minister’s supposed treason. Whatever sympathy there was for Alberta before in Ottawa has probably diminished considerably and the consensus has probably now tilted to are Albertans raving lunatics? I doubt the Federal Liberals will want to risk much more political capital on a province that can’t seem to be pleased and will focus their efforts in places where there is a possibility they may win. Unfortunately for Albertans some of these places are not very pipeline friendly.

    I still have to wonder whether Mandel’s self sabotage is intentional or perhaps it was one of those subconscious things. It must have become apparent to him by now that the Alberta Party was really not catching fire and he was headed for another potentially embarrassing defeat to likely end his political career. Why bother to spend all the time, effort and money over the next few months just to end up in such a position? Perhaps it was better to skip all that and find a quick way out. Its going to be embarrassing either way, so maybe it is best to cut his losses now. After all, how difficult could it be to fill in a form with supposedly all zeros? If his financial officer was not up to filling it out, surely someone else could do it and then go over to his home, office or hospital bed with flowers or chocolates and a get well card if necessary, to get the requisite signature.

    The former PC’s sure had their share of administrative snafus running the government over the years, but the party itself at least generally seemed to be able to get election forms in by the deadlines, as other parties also seem to be able to do. All this only serves to confirm the suspicions many Albertans already have that the Alberta Party is just not quite up to it. At this point, it probably doesn’t matter so much what the judge will say, the verdict of the voters will not be sympathetic.

  8. Perrybro

    February 25th, 2019

    No one has mentioned Mr.Sohi,s statement in reguards to the fact that meaningful consultation has not been completed and the issue of the killer whale is alsc not complete… He also stated that no one has the right to Veto a decision to proceed with The TMX


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