Up to pipeline firms, not Ottawa, to make Gateway, Trans Mountain work, industry minister says

Federal Industry Minister James Moore has played a pivotal role in trying to get Alberta's oil sands bitumen to markets. But now he appears to be signalling that he is looking to other challenges in the new year, Chris Hall writes.

Federal government has 'done everything we can,' Industry Minister James Moore says

Interview with Industry Minister James Moore

8 years ago
Duration 14:07
James Moore speaks with CBC's Chris Hall about wireless competition, challenges facing pipelines and consumer protection.

Industry Minister James Moore says the federal government did its job to advance the cause of two proposed oil pipelines through his home province of British Columbia, and now it's up to the companies to ensure the projects succeed.

"We've done everything we can in a responsible way,'' Moore said in an interview with CBC News in his Parliament Hill office when asked about Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and Kinder Morgan's planned expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline.

As the senior cabinet minister from B.C., Moore's played a pivotal role in advancing the government's signature economic policy: promoting the benefits of getting Alberta's oil sands bitumen to markets overseas.

It's been a tough slog, and now Moore appears to be signalling that he is looking to other challenges in the new year — like advancing his government's consumer-first agenda and promoting competitiveness through investments in technology.

As for the pipelines, together Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain would cost nearly $12 billion and, once operating, carry about 1.3 million barrels of oil a day.

But both are hugely controversial, and have spawned protests by First Nations, environmental groups and others.

Also, neither is close to being approved or helping the Conservative government in Ottawa realize its goal of making Canada an oil superpower, feeding the energy needs of countries along the Pacific Rim.

"But it's still up to the proponents to meet the environmental tests, to engage with First Nations, to meet provincial standards that are expected and to engage with municipal governments as well in terms of local benefit,'' Moore said.

"It's up to the firms to deliver on these projects.''

Questions were raised

The federal Conservatives have an enormous stake in seeing these pipelines proceed — stemming from the potential creation of thousands of jobs in construction and related industries to legitimizing the government's resource-first economic policies.
Industry Minister James Moore announces legislation aimed at ensuring prices in Canada are not unfairly higher than those in the U.S. on Tuesday. Is the government shifting economic priorities now that oil prices have plummeted? (The Canadian Press)

Developing Canada's vast natural resources has driven the economic recovery these past years, and is what underpins the Conservatives' economic policy.

What's more, among the potash, minerals, precious metals and natural gas, it's the oil sands that stand atop the list of Canada's resources the Conservatives most want to see exploited and exported.

As Stephen Harper's senior cabinet minister from B.C., Moore understands all of this.

And he insists the government couldn't have done anything differently to avoid the protests that have stalled the two projects.

"We have a culture in British Columbia that is … that invites disagreement. But frankly these were not particularly massive protests. They were pointed and there were questions that were raised, and that's fine."

'Bulldozer politics'

The protests also seem to be having an effect.

Kinder Morgan dismantled a partially-completed drilling site on Burnaby Mountain two weeks ago after protesters defied a court order to leave the area.
RCMP officers take protesters into custody at Kinder Morgan anti-pipeline demonstration in Burnaby, B.C., on Nov. 20, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen scoffs at the idea that the federal government couldn't have done things differently. Northern Gateway would end in his riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley.

"They made a fatal mistake that convinced the public there's no fair process, that it's a rigged exercise in which the answer is always going to be the same: Yes to every pipeline no matter what the opposition, no matter what the economic or environmental impacts are.''

Cullen calls it the ''old bulldozer politics of the 1950s'' when the government just rammed things through.

His assessment of whether either pipeline will be built? "Dark and growing darker.''

Moore is not nearly as pessimistic, but he acknowledges plunging oil prices, and the prospects that prices may stay well below the government's budget forecasts of around $82 a barrel for the next four years, pose a risk to the companies.

"I hope it's positive from their perspective, in terms of taking a Canadian commodity and seeing an opportunity for it in the world market. But they have to make the economics work.

"We've done everything we can federally in Ottawa in driving down the cost of doing business.''

As industry minister, his focus now is on promoting other areas of the economy.

Cellphones, jet engines

Just this week, for example, Moore's department provided $300 million in loans for Pratt and Whitney plants in Ontario and Quebec to develop a new jet engine.

He also unveiled new legislation to narrow the price gap on identical items sold in Canada and the U.S. And next week his department will release the guidelines for another telecom auction of wireless spectrum.

Moore is confident cellphone rates can drop even more, and that the government will meet its targets of expanding broadband access across the country.

But his big focus now is on ways to encourage Canadian companies to become more competitive, and to embrace new technologies.

"You know we've had a number of programs at Industry Canada we've delivered and had very mixed results. That's one of the areas I would look for an update."

And unlike pipelines, it's an area in which Moore believes the government has more to do.


  • This story has been edited from a previous version that included an unintended reference to the Keystone pipeline. In fact, the pipeline in question is the proposed Northern Gateway.
    Dec 11, 2014 2:54 PM ET


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. Follow him on Twitter: @chrishallcbc