Calgary

Bill Morneau tells Calgary crowd he understands anxiety over shift to low-carbon future

With a pro-oil protest humming outside, Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau told a Calgary business crowd on Wednesday that he understands how the shift to a low-carbon future can be a source of anxiety. 

Finance minister spoke 1 day after federal government approved Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau is in Calgary on Wednesday, one day after the Trudeau government approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

With a pro-oil protest humming outside, Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau told a Calgary business crowd on Wednesday that he understands how the shift to a low-carbon future can be a source of anxiety. 

Morneau was in the heart of Canada's energy sector, touting the Liberal government's approach to balancing energy development and environmental initiatives one day after the federal government approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

He addressed a largely business crowd in downtown Calgary for an Economic Club of Canada breakfast.

Prior to his speech, Morneau spoke with the CBC's Calgary Eyeopener and stressed the government has to do more than one thing at a time in order to address climate change and build a strong economy. 

"We know, and certainly people in Alberta know when they see the fires that are going on here, and people in Eastern Canada know when they see the floods, we know that there's an enormous challenge going on with climate emergencies, we need to recognize that," he said. 

"That is integral to what we're tying to achieve. But we can't do that if we don't have the resource to make the investments in a cleaner future."

Morneau has estimated the federal government will receive up to $500 million per year over the first 10 years of the pipeline being in operation. The money would be invested into developing green technologies. 

Threats and inequality

That theme of balancing concerns was repeated throughout his speech for the Economic Club of Canada. He said he  understands why it could cause some concern in Alberta.

"That challenge is exacerbated in Alberta where when we talk about a shift to a low-carbon future, it equals a real challenge to the sector that has  created so much prosperity here, it seems like it's a direct challenge to that sector," he said. 

Morneau spent the majority of his time putting the Canadian economy in a global context and hyping the advantages the country possesses. 

A truck loaded with pipe being unloaded at Trans Mountain yard in Edson, Alta. Morneau spoke in Alberta one day after the pipeline expansion was approved by the federal government for a second time. (Terry Reith/CBC)

But he also acknowledged there is deep anxiety, growing income disparity and stress across Canada in areas like Alberta. 

"There's an increasing level of frustration and it's not just impacting small pockets of our population," said Morneau. 

He warned that those stresses and the parallel rise of populism across the globe constitute a threat to "our pluralistic, inclusive society."

Protest

As has become the norm in Calgary when the prime minister and certain cabinet ministers visit, supporters of Alberta's energy sector rallied outside Morneau's speech.

Cody Battershill heads up Canada Action, the group responsible for the branding often seen on signs, banners and clothing at these protests.

He said he's skeptical of the progress being made and that the federal government has to "use its full power" to ensure the pipeline is actually built. 

Battershill also took aim at Bill C-69, a bete noir of oil and gas proponents in Alberta that would change the way natural resource projects are approved in Canada. 

"That piece of legislation, C-69, needs to be stopped," said Battershill. 

Ownership

Morneau told the Eyeopener that the money from the pipeline would flow regardless of the owner of the pipeline, coming through things like increased tax revenue. 

He said the federal government, which purchased the pipeline for $4.5 billion last year, does not want to continue owning it indefinitely.  

"The reason we own this pipeline is because we saw political impasse between two provinces," he said. 

"Moving that out into the private sector, trying to find a way so there's meaningful economic engagement of Indigenous peoples in that next step, that's ... the right approach to continuing to be effective in the sector."

Ian Anderson, the CEO of Trans Mountain, the government-owned company behind the pipeline expansion, said he's focused on getting the project underway this year.

In a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, he said he's spoken to those eager to ship oil through the pipeline.

"What I've told them [shippers] is that if all goes well and the schedule pans out according to what we expect, we anticipate having new oil flowing through the pipeline by 2022," he said.

Anderson said the biggest challenge the expansion faces is the coordination of work on a project of such a large scale. Contractors are in place to start work once they're given the go-ahead, he said.

"It is many major projects within a mega-project," Anderson said.

"There will be legal proceedings, there will be opposition groups voicing their concerns, there will be challenges in some Indigenous communities. 

"But I think we have the experience, reputation and the approach necessary to overcome those."

Anderson said he expects to hear further direction from the National Energy Board in the coming days about what the regulatory process will look like before work begins. He hopes that process would be a matter of weeks.

When construction begins, Anderson said, the company will be resuming work at the Westridge terminal in Burnaby, B.C. The terminal has been the target of numerous protests.

"That's one of the most critical pieces of work to get re-started," he said.

Conservative reaction 

The decision to approve the project a second time came nine months after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed Ottawa's initial approval, citing incomplete consultations with Indigenous communities and a faulty environmental review.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was among those applauding the federal government's decision on Tuesday, while expressing skepticism the project will actually be completed.

"This second approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline isn't a victory to celebrate. It's just another step in a process that has frankly taken too long," Kenney said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, pictured last month, has said the Trudeau government isn't serious about supporting the energy industry. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also scoffed at the idea the pipeline would ever be built, and cast doubts on Trudeau's sincerity about supporting the energy industry.

"He hasn't done anything," Scheer said. "Show me the pipeline. Where is it?"

Progressive reaction

On the other end of the political spectrum, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh were unequivocal in their opposition to Trudeau's decision.

The project has also caused major friction between British Columbia and Alberta. Trudeau called both Kenney and B.C. Premier John Horgan to inform them of the decision Tuesday.

That friction isn't going away anytime soon. 

The B.C. government plans to appeal a ruling that slapped down its attempt at blocking the project through provincial environmental legislation 

Horgan said Tuesday he reiterated his concerns about the potential of a marine spill.

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

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