North Coast no place for oil pipeline: Justin Trudeau

Prime minister reiterates opposition to Northern Gateway pipeline but stops short of saying it's dead

Mayor Gregor Robertson presents Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a photo of his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, from his visit Vancouver city hall 42 years ago. | Nelson Bennett

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated today in Vancouver that he thinks the Great Bear Rain Forest is no place for a crude oil pipeline, but stopped short of categorically pronouncing the Northern Gateway pipeline project dead.

He did say, however, that if pipeline projects do go through, it will only be after they pass a renewed environmental and social licence vetting process that he promised would restore the public’s faith in federal regulatory processes.

Trudeau was at Vancouver City Hall December 17 for what was something of an historic visit.

It was the first time in 42 years that a sitting prime minister visited Vancouver city hall. The last one was his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was here for a ceremony to mark the transfer of the Jericho lands to the city.

In a joint press conference with Mayor Gregor Robertson, Trudeau fielded media questions on topics ranging from Syrian refugees to commercializing marijuana.

For B.C.’s construction sector, one of the big questions for the new federal government is whether two pipeline projects – the Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan Inc. (NYSE:KMI) Trans Mountain – will be approved.

Trudeau’s plans for a ban on oil tankers on B.C.’s north coast is widely viewed as Northern Gateway’s death knell.

And while Enbridge recently told investors and analysts that low oil prices means that there is less urgency now, the company said it still hopes to work with the federal government to satisfy its concerns. 

In a recent conference call, Enbridge CEO al Monaco said he thinks the company might still make a final investment decision on the Northern Gateway project sometime in the latter half of 2016. 

When asked if the company might get around an oil tanker ban on the north coast by moving its terminal from Kitimat to some other location outside the moratorium area, Monaco said: “I think it's pretty early to speculate on what's going to happen there.

“One thing I would say is that we've heard the prime minister and the minister of natural resources indicate their openness to listen. They've talked about the importance of Canada securing markets.

“So all we can say at this point is, we're looking forward to engaging with the federal staff on this. And in the meantime, though, we're going to still focus on what we've been doing since we got the approval for the project, or the certificate at least.”

Asked to state categorically whether or not the Northern Gateway project could proceed or not, Trudeau said: “I’ve been saying for years that the Great Bear Rain Forest is no place for a pipeline. That continues to be my position.

“However, we do need to continue to allow processes to go underway where proponents of a broad range of projects can attempt to acquire the social licence that simply was not available – even as a theoretical option – over the past years.”

He also reiterated his promise to revise National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency processes – a process that Kinder Morgan is currently in the middle of on its Trans Mountain expansion project.

“One of the things we’ve seen over the past 10 years is that Canadians who understand that we need to grow the economy, understand that we need to get our resources to market, were no longer reassured that their government was looking out for their long-term best interests, that the public trust towards (the) previous government – and projects like these pipelines – simply wasn’t there.

“The one thing that we made very, very clear was that there needs to be social licence, there needs to be public trust before projects like these can go ahead. We need to be consulting with communities, we need to be partnering with indigenous peoples. We need to be reassuring Canadians that the science and the environmental impacts and the risks are being properly monitored that this and any project is truly in the best interest of Canadians and future generations.

“That is the frame we’re putting forward. As we grow our economy we have to make sure we’re doing it right and Canadians understand that.”

At the same time Trudeau was speaking in Vancouver, Kinder Morgan was wrapping up its oral summary before the NEB on its $6.8 billion Trans Mountain pipeline twinning proposal.

The Trans Mountain pipeline terminates in Burnaby, so it would not be captured by a North Coast oil tanker ban.