Q&A

Catherine McKenna says Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will make B.C. coast safer

When asked about B.C. Premier John Horgan's stance on the project, the federal environment minister said "overheated rhetoric" was not helpful.

Environment minister says federal government stands by decision to approve pipeline project

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says B.C.'s coast will be safer, even with the expansion of Trans Mountain's pipeline due to new federal safety initiatives like the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says marine safety improvements associated with the Trans Mountain expansion project will make B.C.'s coast safer than it was before.

Citing new safety efforts like the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, McKenna said even though the project would lead to more tanker traffic, spill response would be heightened.

During a visit to Vancouver Thursday, McKenna spoke with On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko about the project, the Trudeau government's approval of it and what she thinks of the ongoing dispute between British Columbia and Alberta.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, listen to the audio below:

When asked about B.C. Premier John Horgan's stance on the project, the federal environment minister said "overheated rhetoric" was not helpful. 15:30

How do you explain your government's approval of the project, which not only comes with the risk of a spill but also expands the fossil fuel industry?

It's an example of the economy and the environment going together.

I know people have concerns in B.C. We did much greater consultations. We had meaningful consultations with Indigenous peoples. We looked at the science. And we took into account the climate-related impacts, the upstream emissions. We also announced our national climate plan, so the project fits within our climate plan, and it also fits within Alberta's. Alberta has a hard cap on emissions from the oilsands. And we announced our oceans protection plan.

We stand by the decision, and I really think it's important to look at the bigger picture.

McKenna says her government has listened and responded to safety and environmental concerns about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

There's also the economic context. It's close to $50 billion and a lot of jobs. There are 42 impacts benefit agreements signed with communities, Indigenous communities.

We looked at all of these factors and we made a rational decision. I know not everyone's going to be happy with the decision we made, but it is important for people to understand we did take very seriously the concerns.

Why not put money into transitioning to a cleaner economy?

We are investing in a clean economy, including investments that we're making here in British Columbia, whether it's in public transit or energy efficiency. We're in a transition and we need good projects to go ahead. Transitions don't happen overnight.

We're absolutely committed to meeting our [emissions] target, working with provinces and territories and municipalities, but we're also committed to growing our economy and creating jobs. You need to do both.

I just think we're really better as a country when we're together. And I think it is unfortunate that you have two progressive governments that support climate action and there are other politicians who, I don't think, believe climate change is real.

I just hope there can be progress on this.

What do you think of John Horgan's government's approach to this?

What I don't like is when you have overheated rhetoric or things that might not be clear. Diluted bitumen has been going through tankers for the last 30 years.

We have these protections, so I think it's actually going to be safer, because of all these investments, than it's ever been, even though there will be an increase from one tanker a week to six.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley​ and B.C. Premier John Horgan have been engaged in a running dispute over the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project. (Left: Richard Marion/CBC Radio-Canada, Right: The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

What will your government do about this ongoing dispute between B.C. and Alberta?

People need to listen to people's concerns but also explain — like I'm doing right now — the rationale for the decision.

I think that it's time for political leadership, including here in British Columbia, to say we understand the environment and the economy go together, and we're going to make sure that happens in a responsible way.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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