The House

The House: Mixed reviews for the new Trans Mountain report

This week on The House, we ask fisheries and oceans minister Jonathan Wilkinson about the new NEB report on the environmental impact of the Trans Mountain pipeline. We also break down the latest on the SNC-Lavalin affair with two legal experts. Finally, we get an update on those U.S. tariffs from Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
Pipes at the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain facility in Edmonton in 2017. A new NEB report detailed the impacts on the marine environment, but ultimately recommended the project be allowed to go ahead. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The federal fisheries minister says the anticipated increase in tanker traffic should cabinet approve the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline will have little impact on the endangered southern resident killer whales in the waters off B.C.'s coast.

"It's important to understand that the plight of the southern resident killer whale has very little to do with the Trans Mountain pipeline," Jonathan Wilkinson tells The House after the National Energy Board reconfirmed its earlier approval the controversial project as being in the national interest.

The report released Friday is a response to a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that found the original NEB study was inadequate because it failed to take into account the impact on marine life and, in particularly, the 74 remaining southern resident killer whales.

"There are 3,200 large container ships that come into Burrard Inlet every year," said Wilkinson, who represents North Vancouver riding. "There are thousands of ferries…. All of those generate noise. So irrespective of whether Trans Mountain proceeds there's a need for us to actually address issues around marine traffic."

The National Energy Board on Friday confirmed its original decision that the controversial expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is in the national interest and should be approved. We asked Minister Jonathan Wilkinson about the impact it will have on the marine environment. 12:43

The NEB report makes 16 additional recommendations to reduce the project's impact on marine life, but leaves it to the federal government to decide whether to follow through on them.

Wilkinson tells host Chris Hall that the federal government has already moved shipping lanes away from the whales' feeding grounds, required ships to reduce speed to lower noise levels and is working on new technology to reduce vessel noise.

"But we are doing so in a way that allows us to continue to grow exports for Canada and ensure economic prosperity."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted major energy projects can only proceed if they obtain social licence from affected communities. Wilkinson says that doesn't mean everyone will be happy with the government's decision.

"It doesn't ever mean unanimity," Wilkinson says. "But it is incumbent to engage in those conversations thoughtfully and that's where social licence comes from. You are are actually responding to people's concerns in thoughtful and constructive ways. I believe, you know, that we are in the process of doing that."

Christianne Wilhelmson, the executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, says the NEB report simply checks a box for the government. 

She argues that the government has shown again that Trans Mountain takes precedence over the killer whales and the marine environment.

The Georgia Strait Alliance was one of the interveners in the marine protections element of the Trans Mountain expansion. They had some serious concerns with the original process, and they aren't thrilled with the update either. Their executive director joins The House. 6:01

Can the new NAFTA live while tariffs prevail?

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is in Washington this week to speak to U.S. officials about trade and tariffs. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the federal government isn't ruling out delaying Canada's ratification of the new North American free trade pact until after the U.S. lifts controversial tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Garneau, who chairs the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations, said holding back on ratifying the Canada-United-States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) would create challenges, but it's something his government is considering.

The government tabled the text of the treaty in mid-December; it can't introduce implementation legislation before March.

"We will, as you know, look at the implementation after the 18th of March, but what I'm saying to you is that we will be doing some serious thinking about whether we want to proceed forward with it ... you know the situation with respect to steel and aluminum is not yet resolved," he told Chris Hall.

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"I'm not saying that it's a show stopper, but it certainly is an impediment because we have a good deal with the United States and — without the tariffs in place —  we're very happy with the deal."

Meanwhile, Canada's top man in Washington said he thinks U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum will be lifted in the next few weeks — but wouldn't elaborate on what's motivating that optimism.

Read the full story here.

Chris Hall gets an update on U.S. tariffs, the state of the ratification of the new NAFTA, and Canada-U.S. relations from Minister Marc Garneau. 11:43

Drilling down into the justice committee's Lavalin  investigation

Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick waits to speak at the justice committee meeting in Ottawa on Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It's not often that the Clerk of the Privy Council appears before a parliamentary committee, so, when Michael Wernick showed up at the justice committee on Thursday to talk about Jody Wilson-Raybould and the SNC-Lavalin affair, everyone was listening intently.

 Right from the outset Wernick made it clear he didn't just come to take questions. He intended to make a statement.

He used the kind of blunt language that is not  typical of the way bureaucrats usually speak in public.

He set out some of the details of meetings the former attorney general had, what was discussed on SNC, and whether solicitor-client privilege — the reason for Wilson-Raybould's silence — should apply.

To help us parse some of what Wernick said, Chris Hall sat down with public administration expert Lori Turnbull. She's the director of Dalhousie University's School of Public Administration in Halifax and worked for two years in and around the PCO.

What political impact particularly would Wernick's statement have on the prime minister and Jody Wilson-Raybould, who both say they are bound by solicitor-client privilege?

I mean clearly that's been her line from Day One. She is bound by solicitor-client privilege because as attorney general she is the lawyer to the government and therefore she can't say anything she is pressuring the government to go back to that word pressure again. You know there is a kind of you know pressure out there in the media. She is saying 'I want to tell my truth and therefore I have to be released by the government.' 

You know in terms of my responsibilities under solicitor-client privilege in order to be able to say that I think warnings point in this case is that she's not a solicitor in this case in this sort of you know in a way that we can imagine some other solicitor-client relationships.

I mean she it's not that the government is accused of anything and she is a solicitor in the sense that she's giving the government advice on how to navigate this charge against them. That's not the case. The court in her context is the role of attorney general. She is making a decision about whether or not whether or not SNC-Lavalin should be able to pursue a DPA.

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Jody Wilson-Raybould has been clear that she's ready and willing to tell her story in the SNC-Lavalin scandal. But what's far from clear is whether the Liberal government, or the law, will let her do that. The situation is complex and our Salimah Shiviji explains why. 2:16

 If you have made a decision and people keep asking you if it's still an option to do something different, is it reasonable to suggest that that's pressure? And if so why didn't she do something about it? 

If I made a decision on my life and people kept saying what if, what if, what if, what if this, and they continued on that campaign, of course that's pressure. That seems like a rational sort of conclusion to me and why didn't she do something about it, that's what I don't know. I don't know.

But for some reason when Mr. Wernick went to the committee and he said Miss Wilson-Raybould had an opportunity to come to the prime minister and he's got a 24/7 switchboard and she can call him any time all of a sudden everybody perked up. I think it seemed to resonate on a different level when Wernick made the point that she had this opportunity to come forward.

Let me get some assessment from you of whether you think Michael Wernick's testimony made matters better for the government or made them worse.

He offered what I take to be the clearest, most comprehensive account of what allegedly happened. I think that makes things better in the sense that people can walk away from it and say, 'OK, I understand this a little bit better,' because part of what happens in the kind of unfolding of a scandal is that when people are totally confused they start ... narratives of their own. And so I think he did provide some clarity on some things.

But on the other hand if his comments you know if we take his comments to mean, 'Hey look nothing happened and there's nothing for us to be upset about here,' then why did Gerry Butts resign?  And so I think for every question he answered, he opened at least one more.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

There were more developments at the justice committee this week, and to help us parse some of what PCO Clerk Michael Wernick said Thursday, we reached out to Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University's School of Public Administration in Halifax. 9:15