Morneau shoots down Singh's high court proposal to end pipeline standoff

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has dismissed NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's proposal to bring the standoff over the Kinder Morgan pipeline to an end, saying the idea of sending the matter to the Supreme Court is "not a course of action that makes sense."

'That ... is not a course of action that makes sense,' Morneau said.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau updates the media on the talks involving the plans for Trans Mountain pipeline extension during a briefing in Toronto on Wednesday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has dismissed NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's pitch to bring the standoff over the Kinder Morgan pipeline to an end, saying the idea of sending the matter to the Supreme Court is "not a course of action that makes sense."

Speaking in Toronto today, Morneau told reporters once again that his government would ensure that the Trans Mountain pipeline is built.

"We are in a position where we know that this is federal jurisdiction. We've been clear. We don't see a need to refer something to the Supreme Court of Canada when we already know that its a federal jurisdiction," Morneau said. "That, from our standpoint, is not a course of action that makes sense."

Earlier Wednesday, Singh suggested referring to the high court the jurisdictional dispute between the government of Alberta — which backs the pipeline — and the government of B.C., which opposes it.

Singh said the federal government should submit with B.C. a joint reference question for the Supreme Court to consider.

"What I'm proposing is a path forward that actually brings people together," he said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

It's not clear how long the Supreme Court would take to render a decision on a Trans Mountain reference, but in past reference cases the court has taken several months to deliver decisions after hearing arguments.

The government of B.C. Premier John Horgan announced in February that it will ask the courts to decide if it has the right to restrict the flow of diluted bitumen in the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Singh said going the Supreme Court route would still be more efficient than waiting for B.C. to go through its own legal process.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's proposal that the Supreme Court should be asked to resolve the B.C.-Alberta Trans Mountain pipeline impasse. 5:56

Singh has so far refused to take sides in the escalating feud between Premier Horgan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley over the pipeline expansion, saying it's a matter for the federal government to resolve.

Notley's government announced Tuesday it plans to introduce legislation that would give the province the power to reduce oil flows, which would lead to a spike in gas prices in B.C.

Keeping construction on track

Tensions over the Trans Mountain expansion have been building since Kinder Morgan suspended all non-essential spending on the project on Sunday. The company has given the federal government until May 31 to deliver concrete assurances that the expanded line will get built.

Kinder Morgan said the "scope and pace of the permits and approvals" prompted it to halt spending.

"KML must have a clear line of sight on the timely conclusion of the permitting and approvals processes before we will commit to full construction spending," company president Ian Anderson said.

Leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta Jason Kenney weighs in on the federal government's response to the B.C.-Alberta Trans Mountain pipeline impasse. 8:34

According to Kinder Morgan, the company requires 13 federal permits, six of which are complete. Alberta must issue two permits, both of which are in the process, while B.C. is supposed to issue 45 permits; just eight of those have been completed.

Morneau said Wednesday that resolving outstanding issues between the provinces by the end of May is a "reasonable" goal.

"We want to make sure that the work proceeds and that we create the jobs and the economic advantage. So that means we are thinking about the shortest timeline possible," he said.

'Way forward'

Singh also accused the federal government of threatening "punitive and divisive sanctions" against B.C. and First Nations, including cuts to health transfers.

"This is a way forward instead of threatening, instead of sanctioning, instead of using these menacing acts," he said. "This is a way forward that actually unites instead of dividing."

In fact, federal cabinet ministers have not said whether they intend to impose sanctions.

Kinder Morgan's deadline announcement prompted the Trudeau government to hold an emergency cabinet meeting in Ottawa Monday. Ministers emerged from that meeting yesterday offering no concrete solutions to the standoff.

Morneau met with Premier Notley early Wednesday evening.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

In a conference call with reporters from Toronto late Wednesday, Notley said she talked to Morneau about a wide range of options for the project — economic, legal and financial — but declined to reveal what those options are, leaving that up to Morneau.

"I will say that he did assure me the Canadian government plans to take swift action on this file," she said. "I did leave the meeting being a little bit more convinced that we are going to see something specific from them in the relatively near future."

'All means under federal control'

Speaking after an event in Toronto promoting student internships this morning, Morneau said the Liberal government has reinforced its "resolute determination" to get the pipeline built and repeated that all options are on the table.

The government is prepared to use "all means under federal control," Morneau said. But he would not say if he's considering scaling back transfer payments to persuade B.C. to let the project proceed.

"I'm not going to publicly negotiate with any one of the parties," Morneau said. "What I can tell you is public threats are not helpful."

He did suggest buying a federal stake in the pipeline is a possibility.

"We want to make sure this pipeline goes forward. We want to make sure it goes forward on the basis that gets us the advantages that we're seeking as soon as possible," he said.

"That will include us considering financial options that might help that to happen."

With files from Michelle Bellefontaine