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Federal Liberals confirm plans to intervene in BC's Trans Mountain court case

Last Updated May 3, 2018 at 6:03 pm PDT

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Expansion Project's Westeridge loading dock is seen in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. Shares in Kinder Morgan Canada opened down 15 per cent from Friday's close but trading in the oilsands companies it serves were mixed a day after it announced it was suspending all non-essential construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The feds will intervene in BC's reference case over the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion: justice minister

BC is asking its Court of Appeal if the province has jurisdiction to regulate the transport of oil through its territory

OTTAWA – The federal government will intervene in British Columbia’s reference case over the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Thursday.

The case filed in the B.C. Court of Appeal asks if the province has jurisdiction to regulate the transport of oil through its territory, a key question in the political battle over the project.

Wilson-Raybould said Ottawa’s view will prevail.

“We are confident in Parliament’s jurisdiction and will intervene on the question in order to defend our clear jurisdiction over interprovincial pipelines,” she said in a statement.

While project architect Kinder Morgan has halted investment in the expansion unless and until the clouds of uncertainty looming over it can be cleared, giving the government a May 31 deadline, the federal government remains a strong — and increasingly adamant — backer.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed the pipeline will be built, and has instructed Finance Minister Bill Morneau to sit down with Kinder Morgan to find a financial solution that will soothe their investors.

He also promised legislation that would reaffirm Ottawa’s authority to press ahead with a development deemed to be in Canada’s national interest.

B.C. Premier John Horgan, meanwhile, has said he will use every tool available to stop the pipeline, arguing that his province has every right to protect its residents, economy and environment from the threat of an oil spill.

Trudeau has made the pipeline a central component of a vision that couples economic expansion with environmental stewardship.

Trudeau said the pipeline was approved by his government in 2016 after a rejigged environmental assessment and Indigenous consultation process, and only in concert with the Liberal climate change and oceans protection plan.

Approval came in consultation with the previous B.C. Liberal government, which gave its consent to the project after its own conditions were met.

Horgan’s election last year changed everything. His minority government exists at the pleasure of the Green party, and on condition of his continued opposition to the project.

Federal intervention a good thing for Horgan: political scientist

It’s just a matter of time before this expensive staring contest ends.

That’s what a local political scientist is saying about Ottawa’s intervention in BC’s court battle.

“Ultimately cut and dry jurisdictional question,” says Political Scientist David Moscrop. “The federal government will win the legal battle.”

Federal lawyers will argue Premier John Horgan doesn’t have the power to regulate how much oil travels through BC, and Horgan’s already indicated he’ll respect whatever ruling comes from the BC’s highest court.

“For him, it could be a way of fighting this probably as a losing battle for the court case, but then being able to climb down afterwards and say, ‘Well, we did what we said we were going to do and what else did you expect and what else can we do. It’s time to move on.”

Moscrop says he’s not surprised Ottawa has decided to step in. “Nor do I think it’ll be any surprise if the federal government wins this case and BC finds that it doesn’t, in fact, have jurisdiction. My read of the situation is that the move was always about buying as much time as possible. Stare Kinder Morgan down and hope that they blink first.”

Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley have indicated they’re prepared to offer financial support.