The Current

Government should have 'removed all political obstacles' to Trans Mountain pipeline sooner: Conservative MP

A Conservative government would have exercised constitutional powers to ensure the Trans Mountain pipeline stayed in the hands of the private sector, finance critic Pierre Poilievre told The Current.

Pierre Poilievre says feds should be willing to arrest protesters who prevent worker access to pipeline

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre told The Current the Liberal government's announcement to nationalize the Trans Mountain pipeline was an 'alternative to doing the right thing, which would have been ... to exercise jurisdictional power to ensure the project was built by the private sector.' (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

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A Conservative government would have explored exercising constitutional powers to ensure the Trans Mountain pipeline stayed in the hands of the private sector, MP Pierre Poilievre told The Current.

The MP and finance critic's comments follow the announcement that federal government plans to purchase the contentious B.C.-Alberta pipeline for $4.5 billion from Texas company Kinder Morgan.

Alberta's government and pro-pipeline supporters greeted the announcement with jubilee, while many Indigenous leaders, environmental activists and the B.C. NDP say they feel betrayed by the Liberals' unilateral decision.

But Poilievre told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti he believes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed by not taking control of the situation sooner. 

"Had he exercised his legitimate constitutional powers to approve every aspect of this pipeline and removed all political obstacles, we would not have had to put 4.5 billion dollars on the line," he said.

In order to avoid risking taxpayer money, Poilievre says the Liberals should have used judicial processes to approve the pipeline earlier, and signalled to the private sector that "violent protesters" were not a threat — arresting activists if necessary.

If there are violent lawbreakers who want to rob the livelihoods of honest hard-working Canadians in the energy sector, then those lawbreakers should be treated like lawbreakers.- Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre

Constitutional powers

In order to protect the commercial appeal of the Trans Mountain pipeline, Poilievre says the government should have triggered a constitutional provision — Section 92(10) of the British North America Act —  which gives it the power to assume control of all approvals for projects in "the general advantage of two or more provinces."

"All the municipal and provincial permitting could have been taken over by the federal government — which could have granted those approvals very quickly and given certainty to the investors," he told Tremonti.

While the Alberta NDP have advocated for the Trans Mountain pipeline's construction, the B.C. government has voiced strong opposition to the project.

Poilievre says triggering Section 92(10) would have put an end to this political stalemate.

"Effectively, [the provision] was meant to prevent provinces from engaging in 'not-in-my-backyard' politics," he said.

Arrest 'violent lawbreakers,' says Poilievre

Poilievre said the second political obstacle facing the pipeline was the threat of "violent lawbreaking protesters," which he argued the Liberals failed to effectively contain.

"If there are violent lawbreakers who want to rob the livelihoods of honest hardworking Canadians in the energy sector, then those lawbreakers should be treated like lawbreakers — and the prime minister ought to have signalled that to law enforcement," Poilievre told The Current.

Protesters hold a banner as a transport truck attempting to deliver heavy equipment to Kinder Morgan sits idle as others block a gate at the company's property in Burnaby, B.C., on March 19, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Poilievre said the Conservatives respect the right to protest, but added that activists "do not have the right to physically … block people from going to work on a project," and that arrests in that circumstance are appropriate.

Protests have not been unlawful, says professor

George Hoberg, a professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and specialist in pipeline politics, "strongly disagrees" with Poilievre's assessment that Trans Mountain protests have been unlawful, but worries that unresolved issues underlying the pipeline could lead to violent clashes in the future.

"I haven't seen any evidence of violence among the protests so far – [but] that might happen. And in fact, that's one of the things I worry about the most," Hoberg told Tremonti.

Although the project has changed hands, Hoberg said tensions persist between the oilsands expansion and climate targets, as well as disputes between First Nations and Crown titles.

"What we now know is that the federal government really, really wants this project to be built, the B.C. government still does not, and a lot of people on the ground are going to be resisting it physically," he said.

"They're willing to put their bodies in the way and there's going to have to be police action to address that — and I'm very concerned about how that's going to be resolved in B.C. and in Canada."

This segment was produced by The Current's Alison Masemann and Kristin Nelson.