Analysis

NDP-Green accord touted as a way to give B.C. certainty provides Trudeau anything but

When the leaders of B.C.'s NDP and Green Party stood before the microphones in Victoria on Monday to say they'd reached a deal to join forces, the reverberations were felt clear across the country, on Parliament Hill.

PM worked hard to get B.C. on board with Kinder Morgan expansion; this 2-party team might not be so willing

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and NDP Leader John Horgan speak to media on Monday after announcing they'll be working together to help form a minority government. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

When the leaders of British Columbia's NDP and Green Party stood before the microphones in Victoria on Monday to say they'd reached a deal to join forces, the reverberations were felt clear across the country, on Parliament Hill.

While the deal won't be finalized until later today, it could spell an end to Christy Clark's chances of holding on to power before she can even introduce a throne speech that might take into account the priorities of the province's three Green MLAs, on things like political finance reform, more affordable housing and funding for clean technology.

"The reason we are standing here today instead of waiting for a throne speech to be put forward is precisely to give British Columbians certainty," Green Leader Andrew Weaver told reporters.

For the federal Liberals and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C.'s certainty is creating nothing but uncertainty in Ottawa.

Here's why.

Both Weaver and NDP Leader John Horgan oppose the expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline between Edmonton and Vancouver. Their accord comes just a day before the company is to make its initial public offering for shares in the $7.4-billion project.

The federal Liberals approved the expansion in November as part of a strategy to get Alberta's NDP government to introduce a price on carbon. One depended on the other.

"The decision we took on the Trans Mountain pipeline was based on facts [and] evidence, on what is in the best interest of Canadians," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Rome Tuesday.

"Regardless of a change in government, in British Columbia or anywhere, the facts and evidence do not change," he said.

"The prime minister's been clear that, without a climate plan, we can't get a pipeline, and without a pipeline, we can't get a climate plan," one Liberal insider said Monday as government officials met behind closed doors to craft strategy.

The PMO statement issued late Monday was more anodyne.

"Canada has strong institutions at the federal and provincial level that are able to work through complex situations."

This, apparently, qualifies as one of those complex situations.

Pipeline politics revisited

The truth is the Trudeau government worked hard just to get Clark's Liberal government on board with the Kinder Morgan expansion, even though the province has had a carbon tax for years.

First, Trudeau's government approved the Site C hydroelectric dam despite significant opposition from area residents and First Nations. Then, in November, Ottawa gave the go-ahead to an $11.4-billion liquefied natural gas project in northern B.C.

Both projects remain central planks in Clark's economic plan for the province — and in her election campaign.

Today, the future of all of those projects is less clear than yesterday.

The Trudeau government worked hard to get Christy Clark's Liberal government on board with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. It remains to be seen if a NDP-Green coalition would be as willing to negotiate on the $7.4-billion project. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"I believe, firmly, that all these approvals were part of a political trade-off Justin Trudeau didn't need to make to keep Christy Clark happy and to keep Alberta Premier Rachel Notley happy," said federal Green Leader Elizabeth May.

"It's the kind of unprincipled set of trade-offs that causes disillusionment with politics."

So what's next? In Kinder Morgan's case, the province of B.C. still hasn't issued all the required permits. An NDP government, supported by the Greens, presumably won't feel the need.

Or this new government could order a provincial environmental assessment of the project — something the Clark government didn't do.

"Our objective as we form a government is to ensure that we keep the economy going and that we prepare for the economy of the future," Horgan said Monday.

"That's the exciting part about looking at our two platforms together, and bringing them together in the form of this agreement on key issues we can absolutely agree on: to grow the economy, to create the economy for the future, as well as making sure foundational industries, like forestry, are front and centre."

Neither Horgan nor Weaver said a word about energy being a foundational industry.

Environmental groups noticed: The Pembina Institute, Clean Energy Canada and Stand.earth all released statements not long after Monday's news conference, hailing the NDP/Green accord as a positive step for clean growth and a greener energy future.

Effects on the NDP

But the impact of this accord won't only be felt by Liberals in Ottawa; it makes the federal NDP leadership race potentially more difficult, too.

Notley's NDP government in Alberta wants the pipeline. Alberta's New Democrats, along with trade union members from the province, played a pivotal role in preventing Tom Mulcair from winning a leadership review at the NDP convention in Edmonton last year.

Federal NDP leadership candidates (from left) Guy Caron, Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton and Peter Julian look on during the first debate of the party's leadership race in this March 2017 file photo. A change in B.C.'s provincial government may affect the New Democrats' federal race, if pipeline politics come into play. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Leadership candidates will now have to make a choice between the anti-pipeline New Democrats of B.C. and Notley's pro-pipeline government. It's one or the other. Pick your partner.

One of those candidates, B.C. MP Peter Julian, told CBC Radio's The House earlier this month that he remains opposed to Kinder Morgan.

"I believe we need to make the transition to clean energy. What we need to do is work with energy workers in Saskatchewan and Alberta, retraining them for the clean energy potential that is there."

Others in the race may well feel the same, especially now that there's the distinct possibility of a second provincial NDP government in B.C., where, unlike Alberta, New Democrats have a track record of electoral success.

About the Author

Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.