As the deadline for Ottawa's decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline fast approaches, CBC News has learned that federal cabinet will discuss the project at its regularly scheduled meeting tomorrow.
Sources familiar with the file told CBC News that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues will review findings from the special ministerial panel launched earlier this year to study the Kinder Morgan-backed project.
Cabinet must make a decision on the project on or before Dec. 19.
And while the project now faces further ministerial scrutiny, a B.C. First Nation along the project's route vowed Monday to take direct action to stop construction for fear the pipeline could threaten its very survival.
Leaders of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation met with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr early Monday, and told reporters afterward they think Trudeau's cabinet is all but certain to approve the controversial project.
"[We are] still of the mind to say no to the expansion of Kinder Morgan," Chief Maureen Thomas said. "For me, it means the survival of Tsleil-Waututh Nation for many years to come. When we make decisions, it is not for today, it is for tomorrow and the days to come. I find, with the federal government, the decisions they make are for today. We need to find a way to bring the two minds together."
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'We'll do what it takes to stop it'
Rueben George, the community's spokesman, said a leak in the line could devastate Greater Vancouver's water supply, and will produce few jobs for First Nations communities.
George raised the spectre of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill — which was a massive tanker spill off the coast of Alaska, not a pipeline breach — as an example of what could happen if crude oil were to break out of the pipeline. He said the effects of that spill, which dumped in excess of 42 million litres of oil into the ocean, are still being felt.
Kinder Morgan has said it will adhere to the 157 conditions imposed by the National Energy Board, including spill-mitigation plans. Trudeau has also announced a $1.5-billion ocean protection plan for responses to tanker and fuel spills in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
George said the federal government has not adequately consulted with the community — despite Ottawa's move to set up a review separate from the NEB's 28-month-long assessment process — and they are prepared to turn to the courts to block construction.
"We'll do what it takes legally to stop it. We'll do what it takes to stop it, period," he said. "We're taking a stand, that's why we say no."
Carr said Monday he has been "enriched" by his relationship with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
"I understand very well the sacred relationship that the Tsleil-Waututh feel with the air, the water and the land and it is a value and a lesson, and a teaching, that I think should be important for all Canadians, not just Indigenous Canadians," he told reporters after question period.
"They have a generational responsibility for those who came before, and those who come after, to leave the planet in a better place ... and I agree with those values."
He said, however, that the government has an "objective ... to expand its export markets."
Standing Rock protests
George said that he did not want to see a Standing Rock-like series of protests in Canada, referencing the anti-pipeline crusade in North Dakota that has turned violent.
"I believe Canadians and the government wouldn't want that. People are being shot, a lady's arm was blown off. That's something we want to avoid. People are getting really hurt down there every single day," he said, while reiterating the community would do what it takes to stop Trans Mountain.
"It's not too late to make the right decision for Canadians, not the one per cent."
The pipeline's backer, U.S.-based Kinder Morgan, has said the expansion will create 15,000 jobs a year during construction, and a further 37,000 direct and indirect jobs for every year of operation.
The pipeline would also add capacity — it will carry 890,000 barrels of oil a day, up from 300,000 — which would be a big boost to the fortunes of companies operating in Alberta's oilsands, who have long called for the construction of a pipeline that reaches tide water. (Canadian producers have had to sell their oil at a discounted rate because the landlocked operations cannot fetch world prices.)
Decisions coming on 2 more projects
The government's decision on Trans Mountain comes as it prepares to make two other major calls on the pipeline file: Enbridge's Line 3 and Northern Gateway.
Line 3 has attracted considerably less attention, with fewer activists setting their sights on stopping the 1,659-kilometre project that would carry oil from a terminal near Hardisty, Alta., through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis., the largest project in Enbridge's history.
The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would carry diluted bitumen produced in Alberta's oilsands along a 1,177-kilometre route to an export terminal in Kitimat, B.C.
Some First Nations in B.C.'s north are fervently opposed to this project, as it would carry oil through the pristine Great Bear rainforest. Others, including some 31 area First Nations communities, have formed the Aboriginal Equity Partners group, and collectively own a 33 per cent stake in the pipe.
Cabinet made its decision last Friday, and the results are expected to be announced Tuesday.