British Columbia

Trudeau victory means uncertain future for pipeline projects

The Liberal victory in yesterday's federal election appears to be the nail in the coffin for one West Coast pipeline project, but the future of another remains unclear.

While Northern Gateway may be dead, the Kinder Morgan expansion remains on the books

Canada's next prime minister Justin Trudeau has voiced a wide range of positions on pipeline projects. (TransCanada Corp.)

The Liberal victory in yesterday's federal election appears to be the nail in the coffin for one West Coast pipeline project, but the future of another remains unclear.

Incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau is on record saying he would kill the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, which would carry crude oil from the Alberta oilsands to a tanker terminal on the North Coast of B.C. near Prince Rupert.

"If I win the honour of serving as prime minister, the Northern Gateway Project will not happen," said Trudeau after the pipeline was approved last summer.

"I've been to that part of the world. I've met with many who make their living off the pristine coastal waters. It is just not a place for a pipeline."

Not opposed to pipelines

While his opposition to Northern Gateway is unambiguous, Trudeau has also made it clear he is not opposed to all pipelines.

In July, Trudeau stopped short of offering unqualified support to the Energy East pipeline, which would carry Alberta crude east, saying he wants to let the regulatory process unfold first.

Then his campaign was thrown a curve late in the election when it was revealed his campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier had sent a detailed letter to TransCanada officials behind the Energy East pipeline, outlining how they could best lobby a government — including a Liberal government — to have the pipeline approved.

Trudeau was also a strong supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S., and travelled to Washington to support the project before it was nixed by President Obama earlier this year.

"They are very, very different proposals," the Liberal leader said at the time.

Keystone, for example, has been signed off on by Canada's energy board while the Northern Gateway line would mean bigger risks to more ecologically sensitive areas and to people in B.C. who rely on the water for their livelihoods, he said.

"It's important that we get our resources to market, but it's also important that we understand that it's not just up to governments to grant permits anymore. We have to get communities to grant permission and that's something that we need to spend more time focusing on," Trudeau said.

Tanker ban

That leaves the proposed expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Port Metro Vancouver on the South Coast of B.C.

While Trudeau has promised to formalize the non-binding moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on B.C.'s North Coast passed by MPs in 2010 — that ban applies specifically to the North Coast.

And that leaves the door open for Kinder Morgan, which is seeking approval from the NEB to twin the 50-year-old pipeline, tripling its capacity, and increasing the tanker traffic in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet on the South Coast.

The project is still awaiting approval from the National Energy Board, a process which Trudeau says was politicised by the Harper government, and which he intends to reform.

While Trudeau has not said specifically if he supports the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion or not, senior Liberal MP and former minister of natural resources Ralph Goodale is on record saying the party would seek to fix the credibility of the NEB, which must approve the pipeline before it could go forward.

"It clearly depends on the outcome of a credible process and clearly there is a question of mistrust," said Goodale. "Earning that market access means earning the social licence."

That focus on reforming the NEB rather than stopping the project concerns Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who has been a staunch opponent of the pipeline that runs through his city.

"The Liberal position on the issue has been like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall," said Corrigan on Tuesday morning.