The federal cabinet has delivered its decision on the Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway pipeline after years of delays and false starts. But it will be days before the public knows the fate of the controversial project.
The National Energy Board and the former Harper government signed off on the $7.9-billion project, and imposed 209 conditions. But the Federal Court overturned those approvals in June after it found Ottawa had not adequately consulted Indigenous people along the project's 1,177-kilometre route.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in September the government will not appeal the court's ruling, meaning cabinet now has three options on the table: issue an extension and launch further consultations with Indigenous people, approve the project in defiance of the Federal Court, or reject the project outright.
That decision has been made and was signed by the Governor General Friday, according to Raymond Rivet, director for corporate and media affairs in the Privy Council Office.
"A decision has been taken on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project within statutory timelines and will soon be communicated to the NEB and made public," Rivet told CBC News Friday, adding that the decision would be communicated to the NEB in "due course."
Carr said Thursday that while a decision had to be made by Friday to meet a self-imposed deadline, the outcome would be made public later. Sources familiar with the file told CBC News the announcement will come early next week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is attending la Francophonie summit in Madagascar, returning Monday.
Trudeau and his colleagues must also make a decision Friday on Line 3, the largest pipeline project in Enbridge's history. Line 3 has attracted considerably less attention, with fewer activists setting their sights on stopping the 1,659-kilometre project that will carry oil from a terminal near Hardisty, Alta., through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.
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The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would carry diluted bitumen produced in Alberta's oilsands to an export terminal in Kitimat, B.C.
Northern Gateway has said it is closing a field office in Prince George, B.C. at the end of this month — a potentially ominous sign. But the company said it is simply trying to find new, smaller office space and that employees will work from home until it signs a lease in the new year.
"We are relocating the office because the space doesn't suit the needs we have right now," Katherine Coutinho, a spokesperson for Northern Gateway, told CBC News in an e-mailed statement.
Gavin Smith, a lawyer representing some Indigenous groups opposed to Northern Gateway, told CBC News he expects cabinet will not give the greenlight, effectively killing the pipeline once and for all.
Smith also said that there have been no efforts by the federal government to reach out to the First Nations groups he represents — who control roughly a quarter of the land on which Northern Gateway would be built — an indication to him that further consultations are unlikely to follow Friday's decision.
The B.C.-based lawyer also said he met with Carr and other cabinet ministers in October to discuss the government's plans for a tanker ban along B.C.'s north coast. Smith said the minister told him at the time that he was not aware of any plans to extend the decision about the pipeline.
Northern Gateway also told CBC News the government has not, to date, announced a renewed consultation process.
Trudeau opposed pipeline in Great Bear
Trudeau has not hidden his opposition to the project in the past, and openly campaigned against Northern Gateway during the last election.
"The Great Bear rainforest is no place for a crude oil pipeline and I haven't changed my opinion on that," the prime minister added in September, referencing the protected area the pipeline would traverse.
Opponents have said there are risks of a crude oil spill in one of the most pristine areas of B.C. Proponents have said the pipe will be a boon for the area, adding more than $300 billion to Canada's gross domestic product over the next 30 years and creating 1,000 full-time jobs.
As such, Enbridge has been pushing the government to "meet their Constitutional legal obligations to meaningfully consult" with First Nations and Métis.
"We believe that meaningful consultation and collaboration, and not litigation, is the best path forward for everyone involved," John Carruthers, the president of Northern Gateway, said in a statement shortly after the government announced it wouldn't appeal the Federal Court ruling.
"We look forward to working with the government and Aboriginal communities in the renewed consultation process."
Despite vocal opposition, the project has received support from some First Nations. The Aboriginal Equity Partners, a group of 31 First Nations and Métis communities from the area who support the pipeline, collectively hold a significant 33 per cent stake in the project, an investment worth as much as $2 billion.
A message to Trans Mountain
Smith said if Northern Gateway is ultimately rejected by the federal cabinet, it will be a vindication for Indigenous groups and other locals who organized against the project.
Activists have been at it for more than 10 years, he noted, with the proponent first filing a preliminary information package in 2005.
"It's a success story of communities willing to step up and protect their environment and their interests," he said.
Smith said the campaign also sends a message to proponents of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion project, another pipeline that the federal cabinet will have to decide by Dec. 19.
"I think we saw with Northern Gateway that the federal cabinet decision wasn't the last word. Northern Gateway was approved but the project for all intents and purposes now appears not only dead, but almost buried."
"The cabinet decision on Kinder Morgan is an important milestone, but it's certainly not the end of the road."