Pipeline purchase 'one irritant' but feds need B.C. onside for climate plan

Even as they continue to agree to disagree on the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, Justin Trudeau's federal Liberals and John Horgan's B.C. New Democrats point to this summer's wildfires as proof of the value of what they do agree on: the need for credible climate change policy.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna calls extreme weather a 'wake-up call'

B.C. Premier John Horgan said he wasn't meeting the federal cabinet Wednesday in Nanaimo to negotiate his position on the Trans Mountain pipeline. He remains opposed, but he agrees with the federal government that climate change is causing B.C.'s devastating wildfires, and serious action must be taken. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Even as they continue to agree to disagree on the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, Justin Trudeau's federal Liberals and John Horgan's B.C. New Democrats point to this summer's wildfires as proof of the value of what they do agree on: the need for credible climate change policy.

Neither side has changed their mind on the pipeline, mind you: the federal government bought the Trans Mountain system in late May for $4.5 billion and continues to work toward its expansion. British Columbia is still going to court to challenge their jurisdiction to force its construction against the province's wishes.

But with a smoky haze hanging over Horgan's meeting Wednesday with the federal cabinet at its retreat in Nanaimo, B.C., the wildfires currently ravaging part of the province are focusing the governments on what they have in common. 

"I did raise Trans Mountain," Horgan said. "Every time we speak. it comes up. But it's one irritant within a relationship that I believe is positive. There are a whole host of values that we share."

And so the B.C. premier had nothing but praise for the help that the federal government has been giving to fight the wildfires, including announcing another ad hoc federal cabinet committee to make sure all the government departments and agencies are working in a co-ordinated way.

But it goes beyond that. Both leaders point to the same culprit as the cause of so many fires: Climate change.

"Minister [Catherine] McKenna and Minister [George] Heyman are working on climate action together, developing carbon reduction policies that will ensure that our energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries are protected," Horgan said. "But we're also leading the country when it comes to climate action."

Noisy protests outside

By noon on Wednesday, dozens of protesters were ringing Nanaimo's convention centre, where the federal cabinet was sealed up behind closed doors. They were waving colourful protest signs and chanting their disapproval of Trudeau's decision to buy and build the Trans Mountain pipeline, or demanding more action on climate change in general.

In making his argument, Horgan said that the coastal killer whale population is down to 75 — a population that's not sustainable over time and could be impacted by a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.

"When we think about Trans Mountain, it's not just about the impact of the pipe," he said. 

Tawahum Bige, from the Lutsel k'e Dene and Plains Cree nation, shouts words of support for protesters gathered outside the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Wednesday to voice their discontent with the federal government's decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

But the premier said he wasn't there for a negotiation; fighting the pipeline was an election campaign commitment — and key to the Green Party support that allows him to govern.

"We didn't engage in that type of a discussion today," Horgan said. "That is not to say that we won't in the future," he added, pointing to his opinion that the federal government's ocean protection strategy needs to be beefed up.

Two federal NDP MPs from the area joined in the anti-pipeline protests.

NDP MPs Alistair MacGregor and Sheila Malcolmson, who represent Vancouver Island ridings, turned up to show their support for the anti-pipeline protests outside the federal cabinet retreat in Nanaimo Wednesday. (Benoit Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Alistair MacGregor said his party has been advocating for a long time for the federal government not to get involved in the pipeline's proposed expansion.

"I really think Mr. Trudeau has painted himself into a corner, because from the very get-go, he has been announcing that this pipeline will get built. And I really don't think he has left himself any options," he said.

"He can always climb down but, really, I think he has painted himself in a corner on this one."

Several dozen protesters made plenty of noise on the street in front of where the federal cabinet was meeting Wednesday, but it's possible the ministers neither saw nor heard them, as they met behind closed doors. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

On her way into the cabinet meeting, Trudeau's environment minister said her government understands that "we're in a transition" from relying on fossil fuels and "transitions don't happen overnight."

"I've always said I'm the environment minister for energy workers as much as for environmentalists. We need to move forward. That's why we've got a credible plan," McKenna said.

Allies on carbon tax

Horgan is trying to straddle representing British Columbians who fear oil spills along B.C.'s coast with his like-mindedness on the federal climate change strategy.

While McKenna struggles to get every province to put a credible price on carbon through either a tax or other market incentives, B.C. has had a revenue-neutral carbon tax in place for years.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told reporters that this summer's extreme weather is a wake-up call for those questioning the importance of climate change strategies. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

McKenna also pointed to the wildfires as an example of the real impact of climate change on Canadians. 

"This summer is a wake-up call," McKenna said. "We've seen extreme weather, extreme heat that is literally costing lives. We've seen here forest fires, we've seen extreme flooding. We will continue to see that."

In Ontario, Doug Ford's newly elected Progressive Conservative government has ended the carbon-pricing strategy implemented by the previous Liberal government, incurring extra costs to taxpayers as affected businesses now seek compensation for the change in course. It's unclear what he intends to do to replace it.

Ontario is joining Saskatchewan in heading to court to challenge the federal government's jurisdiction to impose a national carbon tax in places where provinces don't have adequate carbon-pricing systems in place. The federal government argues it must do so to keep its international commitments under the Paris Accord.

Last week, Ontario and Saskatchewan also joined forces to oppose Bill C-69 — federal legislation now before the Senate to revamp the approval process for resource projects.

"It's really good to see in British Columbia that they have a serious climate plan. We need to see that across the country," McKenna said. "It's really unfortunate that we have politicians, some conservative politicians, that have absolutely no plan to tackle climate change."