The gate at the very end of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. (Photo: Sally T. Buck, Creative Commons).

Amid all the hoo-ha emanating from the nation’s capital over the partial holiday weekend, the bit that didn’t seem to fit was the dispiriting news – for many Albertans, anyway – that the federal cabinet won’t make a decision until summer at least on whether the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project will proceed.

Local news commentators here in Alberta interpreted this as a stall by the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For once, it’s possible there’s something to this beyond their habitual anti-Trudeau spin.

Former principal secretary Gerald Butts (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

But the national news was dominated by the SNC-Lavalin scandal (if a scandal it is), the fallout from the resignation of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould during the mismanagement of that same affair by the Prime Minister’s Office, and the decision by someone, somewhere that the prime minister’s principal secretary must fall on his sword to atone.

The biggest headlines of the weekend were devoted to “the bombshell departure,” as the CBC put it, of Gerald Butts, the PM’s friend and close advisor, who will now depart in partial payment for the embarrassing brouhaha.

My friends of the left and right, not to mention my old pals from the Calgary Herald picket line, will have to forgive me if I say I agree with the basic premise of Conrad Black’s rambling column in the National Post Friday. That is, that while the PMO has clearly bungled the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Quebec corporation’s business practices abroad don’t amount to all that much of a scandal, and if Ms. Wilson-Raybould felt she had been demoted for actions as yet unknown when she was shuffled to the associate defence portfolio, that would have been the time for her to quit.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Photo: Erich Saide, Creative Commons).

Regardless, what we are now seeing, I strongly suspect, is the lizard brain of Canada’s National Governing Party reasserting itself and engaging its primal understanding of the real scandal of this crisis. To wit, that the PMO has fumbled things to the point they can be meaningfully exploited by the ex-Rebel-Media twerps who surround Opposition Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer!

So, if I am right, we are about to see the stuff that makes the Liberal Party of Canada the Natural Governing Party. This, it is said here, is where the pipeline “stall” comes in.

I reckon someone in the Liberal Party brain trust – and I don’t use that term sarcastically, for once – has done the arithmetic and concluded the Trudeau Government has gained very little from its co-operation with the Notley Government and its heavy investment of political and actual capital in the TMX Project.

Indeed, it must by now have concluded the party stands to lose significantly – and, in the present situation, potentially fatally – in other regions of the country if this is allowed to continue. Therefore, remedial measures must be taken.

Former newspaper magnate and National Post columnist Conrad Black (Photo: Calgary Herald Strike Archives).

To put this another way, Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney has it precisely backward when he says Premier Rachel Notley’s efforts to achieve social licence have been a spectacular failure in getting Alberta the pipeline it demands. In reality, as has been argued here before, it is Ms. Notley’s social licence effort that has gotten the project closer to completion than anything ever done by Conservatives in Ottawa or Edmonton.

Alas, Mr. Kenney may be right insofar as Ms. Notley’s manifest success has apparently not gotten her as far as she needs to get with her own voters here in Alberta. Indeed, the more she fights for the pipeline, the stronger Mr. Kenney seems to get because the file is seen, however wrongfully, by too many voters as a United Conservative Party strength.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That said, Mr. Kenney is certainly delighted with this delay, since it means there will likely be no pre-election announcement that all is well on the pipeline-expansion front and he can continue with his claims of NDP-Liberal failure unchallenged except by bloggers with insignificant readerships.

Meanwhile, although the Trudeau Government’s efforts moved the needle on the popularity of the expansion project elsewhere, going along with Alberta’s pipeline crusade has done nothing whatsoever in Alberta for the prime minister.

So, it is said here, realpolitik has finally reasserted itself in the NGP brain and the likely result is that the pipeline expansion will indeed be stalled until after the Alberta election, after which it will be reassessed.

If Premier Notley somehow manages to pull the fat out of the fire and her government is reelected, it will probably be back on track.

The Watergate Complex in Washington D.C. (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If Mr. Trudeau’s rival and sworn enemy Mr. Kenney wins, as current polling suggests is likely, the best Alberta pipeline advocates can hope for is that the project will eventually proceed well after the fall federal election.

In the event the Liberals win the fall federal election with the help of voters in British Columbia whom Mr. Trudeau not long ago seemed willing to alienate and even lose, maybe TMX Project won’t be restarted for a very long time. At least, that is, until Mr. Kenney has been eliminated as a threat, and possibly even as an annoyance.

If after that, as also seems likely, Democrats recapture the White House, the policies of our large neighbour to the south seem likely to return to cautious efforts to slow global climate change – more bad news for Alberta’s bitumen miners that makes additional pipelines even less likely.

Given that all Alberta oil booms nowadays are principally construction booms, over the longer term, angry war room rhetoric and protest convoys will make little difference and Alberta will have pissed away a final oil boom before it even started.

Meanwhile, as for SNC-Lavalin, Ms. Wilson-Raybould, and all that, as was said of the third-rate burglary attempt at the Watergate Hotel that brought down U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1974, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime.

So, if the thesis of this column is correct, expect revelations soon.

Join the Conversation


  1. David I believe you are missing one important point. I believe Justin Trudeau wants Jason Kenney to win the Alberta election. He wants to present himself as the progressive alternative to the ever growing group of conservative provincial governments. The apparent Liberal postponement of the TMX decision has eliminated Premier Notley’s faint hope for some positivity on this file before the provincial election. Personally I have always believed TMX would never be built while Justin Trudeau was the Prime Minister.

    As far as the Gerald Butts resignation, this is in my opinion just the beginning. Ethics aren’t Justin Trudeau’s strong point!

    1. Finally Farmer Brian I can agree with you (you found a way not to run backwards for a change in your comments), Trudeau needs Kenney to win the Alberta election so he can have a whipping boy that will help him win Quebec, Ontario and B. C. Trudeau does not care if the TMX ever gets built, it will never help him win any elections. All Trudeau wants is to pander to Quebec, Ontario and B.C. and that will give him enough to win. And the big money men are from those provinces who support the liberals.

  2. I think I am also in the position of agreeing with the former Lord Black in this case. If the Federal Liberals seem to have cautiously only done Premier Notley a few favours from time to time, they will do something between as little as possible and nothing if they have to deal with Kenney, with it likely being closer to the latter.

    There is so little love lost, I think they may not take his calls, if Kenney bothers to try pleading. As for meetings, I suspect the Federal Liberals will find insurmountable scheduling difficulties. If Kenney then has one or more of his hissy fits, the Federal Liberals will probably just ignore him. He may have managed to whip up anger in Alberta and may continue to do so, but the rest of the country, especially where the Liberals need to win does not care so much. They have other issues than pipelines.

    I suspect a frustrated Kenney would end up channeling anger and threats at other parts of Canada, which might temporarily boost his popularity here, but alienate potential allies elsewhere. Eventually Albertans will start to see his approach is less productive than the current one. You see it is not all about us, it is more importantly about them and trying to be supportive to Alberta’s energy industry has got the Federal Liberals very little but grief so far, or as the more business minded would say it has been a poor return on their investment of political capital. If they have to deal with Kenney, that is when the Federal Liberals will decide to finally cut their losses and abandon their current approach.

  3. If SNC-Lavalin’s business practices abroad are not that much of a scandal, why did the World Bank debar them from any of the bank’s development for a decade from 2013?

    Two things strike me: first, the World Bank is not exactly regarded as lily-white itself, having had many of its practices dunned and exposed by luminaries such as Michael Hudson (google those two together and stand back); second, the fecund warblings of Conrad Black, a non-Canadian who explicitly rejected his Canadian citizenship to frolic in Lord-like fashion at London garden parties as proprietor of the right wing Daily Telegraph but who was convicted by the USA and served criminal time for defrauding investors, should be treated with a grain of salt at all times. To give an idea of the internal economic elite corruption we face in Canada, this blowhard Black has been given refuge in Canada since his release from US prison, even though he’s not Canadian. What can we expect from such a criminally-convicted turncoat propped up by his billionaire pals to sit around in our country which he had previously publicly rejected, thence to lecture Canadians as to right and wrong? I know – only the truth. Sure. All merely coloured by the personal hurt he feels was inflicted on his amoral soul by nasty American prosecutors and judge who cut his pretentious oratorical skills off at the hip, got down to the nitty-gritty and found him guilty. This is not a man whose moral judgments can be regarded as reliable.

    Your old Calgary Herald comrades may forgive you for agreeing with the blattings of a Conrad Black, but I don’t. This is risible horsesh*t.

    The scarcely moral neoliberal World Bank run out of Washington DC as an adjunct of US monetary imperialism has decided even by its low standards and holding of noses that SNC-Lavalin is an untrustworthy outfit not fit to bid on its global contracts on the one hand. On the other, we have Conrad Black and you deciding SNC-Lavalin’s overseas kickback operations weren’t all that bad of a scandal. Who to trust on the matter? If it takes more than mere common sense to answer this, then the country is completely lost.

    Time for a rethink, I believe. We need no more economic elite/giant corporation attempting to sway things their way in this country, aided and abetted by politicians of both the Liberal and Conservative stripes in order to keep “jobs”, because corporate employees might be “unfairly” affected by the lack of ethics at management level. Sure, let’s reward corrupt practices by ignoring them and giving away our taxpayer money and projects to these dolts, and then with a bit of luck, all these transgressions will soon be forgotten, leaving the same amoral leadership, both corporate and governmental, to continue to prey on the citizens of Canada.

    As a professional engineer who took seriously the oath I swore to be an honest professional, I retch at the sight of people running a supposedly engineering company who regard ethics as merely another thing to trample to the ground in the quest for money, power and profit. Their behaviour has not been and is not defensible. Having worked for a very well-known French international company four decades ago, and privy to the highly confidential internal policy on how to deal with foreign attempts at interference, I will only say – by comparison to SNC-Lavalin, that management were eligible for sainthood – I felt no moral aversions whatsoever.

  4. .. nobody wants to mention the natural consequences of Venezuela’s massive and higher grade tar sands bitumin.. which will obviously attract the Gulf Coast refineries for domestic use and the new superport nearby.. which can offload while simulateously loading the largest supertankers on the planet with dilbit, and head outbound to Asia.. at lower transport prices

    What then for Alberta’s ‘all that wealth in the ground’ ? ?
    What then for a British Columbia that has cast the die for incoming pipelines, expanded ports, daily 1/2 full smaller supertankers bound primarily for Washington State, California and the Gulf Coast.. and an equal number of daily inbound supertankers, thrashing through the Salish Sea ?

  5. The Conservatives, of course, are hoping to use this whole affair to convince people to vote for them instead of the Liberals. That is where the whole scandal issue becomes dead in the water.

    Between Andrew Scheer’s promises to scrap the carbon tax and replace it with meaningless rhetoric, plus the fact that he is a former Stephen Harper disciple, I assume that a Scheer government would mean muzzled scientists and another wasted 4 years on the climate change front.

    Even if we assume that Justin Trudeau did try to compromise the independence of the judiciary, I would still choose that over another Stephen Harper.

  6. “Indeed, the more [Notley] fights for the pipeline, the stronger Mr. Kenney seems to get because the file is seen, however wrongfully, by too many voters as a United Conservative Party strength.

    The pipeline runs even deeper than that. The more Notley fights for pipelines, the more she fans the flames of anger and resentment among Albertans. The more she underlines her own failure on the file. All Albertans got out of the deal so far was a detested carbon tax. All the blame for all our ills, real and imagined, falls upon Notley and Trudeau.
    A pipeline project without which the industry and the province flourished for years suddenly becomes the rallying flag for Albertans, whose sense of grievance against Ottawa burns eternal. Fuelling the right-wing rage machine.
    Notley’s pipeline hysteria is going to sweep the NDP away this spring. She played right into Kenney’s hands.

    Markham Hislop: “Exploiting industry difficulties for political gain helps no one but Kenney and the UCP.”

  7. Here is one of your old Herald pals taking the bait and pushing back on your comments on the Black piece about the SNC Lavalin scandal. How could you treat with such insouciance the words of this man dismissing corruption as a minor matter? The same man who once called you and others gangrenous limbs that needed to be amputated. But I digress from my main point which is disgust at the SNC Lavalin bribery activities, and, at least as bad, the Deferred Prosecution Agreement legislation hidden in a massive omnibus bill (anti-democratic devices that we hated so much with the Harper regime) approved by the corporate Liberals. We’ve already read about the worst parts of this saga, and the result is ugly.
    On your other point, it’s surprising the Trudeau Libs didn’t give up long ago on working with Alberta, given the irrational personal attacks the PM has been subjected to. I dislike intensely much of what he has done (or not done), but can only despise the relentless ad hominem attacks on him. Then there’s this pathetic convoy “rolling” into Ottawa. Spare us the embarrassment of this bizarre spectacle of monster trucks, trying to bolster its cause with anti-immigrant sentiment.

  8. I suspect you’re on to something here David, finally.
    This pipeline is a $10+ Billion project that will not be profitable unless it can operate somewhere close to capacity for the next 40 years. No one is going to build it on a whim.
    As I have stated before, no one alive today will ever see another continental pipeline built in N.America.

  9. The Liberals risk far more by allowing pipelines through BC, or through Quebec if Energy East is resurrected, than they stand to lose if none get built, ever. Take a look at Eric Grenier’s CBC Poll Tracker——and the seat projections broken down by region:

    Atlantic: Lib 25, Con 7
    Quebec: Lib 56, Con 14, BQ 8
    Ontario: Lib 74, Con 43, NDP 4
    “Prairies” (MB & SK): Lib 8, Con 20
    Alberta: Lib 2, Con 32
    BC: Lib 16, Con 16, NDP 9, Green 1

    Politics is about getting re-elected, period. Forcing a pipeline through the Lower Mainland over the objections of the people through whose neighbourhoods it has to run is a non-starter if they hope to win a second majority. No truck convoys or JK tantrums will change that.

    1. You’re right, Jerry. I have shirt-tail relatives on the B.C. Coast. They are fine people, if a little self-righteous about who is responsible for how well they have done in life. They are lifelong Conservatives who voted for Stephen Harper in Ottawa and Christy Clark in Victoria. They told me recently that Alberta’s pipeline would be built over their dead bodies. They will never vote for any damned party that supports greedy Alberta’s filthy pipeline. And these are the conservatives on the coast! As for the polls that show “majority” support in B.C. support the TMX expansion, unlike the Salish Sea, that support is a mile wide and an inch deep. No one out there has seriously tried to counter the Alberta-Oil Industry propaganda campaign, because they haven’t yet needed to. When the time comes, the needle will swing, and it won’t be in Alberta’s favour. Being tied in with a bunch of Nazis as Alberta’s loudest supporters won’t help the Axis of Oil much either.

  10. Everyone’s so sure SNC Lavalin is going to be found guilty in court and barred from Canadian Federal Government contracts for 10 years? I have not been following this closely but what I’ve seen is SNC executives consistently “beating the rap” and scant evidence which would actually convict the company either.
    I think Ms. Wilson-Raybould would have been a good person to supervise a strict remediation agreement to oversee SNC Lavalin, but that won’t happen now. She’s gone and SNC will probably walk.

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