Big week ahead for Canadian pipelines, as key moves loom on TMX, bill C-69

Two decisions next week will provide more answers on the future of energy projects in Canada. The federal cabinet will announce Tuesday if it will approve the Trans Mountain pipeline, while the Senate will take a final vote on the Liberal government's controversial overhaul of federal environmental assessment legislation — bill C-69.

Decision on Trans Mountain expansion comes as Senate votes on government's environmental assessment bill

A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta. The oil industry fears Canada won't be able to provide stability for investors, while Indigenous groups are worried about what could happen to their traditional lands. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Two decisions coming next week could have a big impact on the future of energy projects in Canada.

The federal cabinet will announce Tuesday if it will approve the Trans Mountain pipeline. The decision comes after the federal government conducted a second round of consultations with Indigenous communities along the pipeline's route. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled the initial consultations fell short of meaningful dialogue.

The Senate will also take a final vote on the Liberal government's controversial overhaul of federal environmental assessment legislation — bill C-69.

Not surprisingly, there are distinctly different views on the outcome of the decisions.

"I think if you look at the state of Canadian energy these days, it's certainly being hampered," Enbridge CEO Al Monaco told CBC Radio's The House, when asked about bill C-69. 

The Liberal government accepted substantial changes to C-69 this week, but rejected almost all amendments put forward by the Conservatives. The legislation overhauls how major natural resource development projects, such as pipelines and mine proposals, are assessed and approved.

Environmental groups have argued that the regulations set out in Bill C-69 do not go far enough, while others — including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney — say the bill is so tough on the natural resources industry it will make it impossible to get new energy projects approved.

The legislation is now going back to the Senate, which must accept the Liberal government's changes before Bill C-69 can become law.

All about transparency and certainty

It is a challenge to get pipelines approved on both sides of the border, Monaco told host Chris Hall in an interview airing Saturday, adding that Canada's proposed new rules would bring forth their own obstacles.

"It really comes down to the certainty and transparency in the process and ultimately its predictability to attract investment," he said. 

While regulatory review can also be difficult in the U.S., Monaco said, delays are more manageable.

"Average times for approval are definitely better in the United States, for the most part, compared to Canada." 

Enbridge currently has two projects in jeopardy that straddle the Canada-U.S. border.

The company's Line 3 pipeline — that would carry crude oil from a terminal near Hardisty, Alta., through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. — is facing new delays from Minnesota regulators

The existing Line 5 is also under threat of closure after Michigan's attorney general said she would shut down the pipeline if the company and the new state government couldn't reach an agreement on how to deal with the 65-year-old pipeline.

Still, Monaco prefers those odds, saying it is possible to address environmental concerns while also developing energy projects.

'This is a pipeline that was supposed to be halfway done by now' | Jason Kenney

4 years ago
Duration 10:10
Incoming Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reacts to the federal government pushing a decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline until June.

'All they offer us is pennies'

But while the federal government looks for ways to get projects like Trans Mountain rolling, one Indigenous group living along the pipeline route isn't backing down from its demands for inclusion in the decision-making process. 

"The meaningful dialogue we were supposed to have never happened and the consultation process is flawed," Coldwater Indian Band Chief T. Lee Spahan told The House. 

Spahan said his band is worried about Trans Mountain contaminating local water sources. He also said the federal government is disrespecting Indigenous peoples because it is not allowing them to protect their traditional land for future generations. 

Spahan said he is extending invitations to several ministers, and to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to tour their land in British Columbia and hold discussions. Spahan said he has been underwhelmed by their responses — or lack thereof, as he said only Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi has paid a visit. 

A spokesperson for Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan said in a statement that a special ministerial representative who is assigned to work with Coldwater regularly meets with the band. 

"Ministers Sohi and O'Regan, and our whole government, remain committed to getting this right," the statement said.

Spahan said he has low expectations for Tuesday's pipeline announcement. 

"I probably won't be happy about it and I'll be going back to my council and my membership to seek direction as to where we go from here."

There's also economic concerns for the chief. He said the compensation for bands along the route isn't on par with the cost to the land and the people.

"Everybody gets rich off of it. In the end all they offer us is pennies."