By Martha Hall Findlay
In the Globe and Mail
May 11, 2017
Let’s hope that campaign rhetoric is just that – noise that disappears once final results are in, reality sets in and cooler heads prevail. Because the noise from the B.C. election was worrisome. Not just for British Columbia, not just for the energy industry in Alberta – but for Canada as a whole.
Among various examples of concern, the politics surrounding the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are a symptom of a slide in this country down a path we must resist. It has to do with how we make decisions – and keep them – in this country. It strikes at our very democracy.
Regardless of the final election results in British Columbia, given final counts and absentee ballots, the ground has shifted dramatically. Even if the last tally gives Christy Clark another majority, it will be with the slimmest of margins – and with that, anything can happen. The Green Party and the NDP – particularly the Green Party – now wield a lot more power.
British Columbia’s leaders should look across the mountains every once in a while. People may legitimately object to the Trans Mountain project – many do, including a lot of people who supported the Green and NDP in this election. But a great many also support it, and depend on it, not only in British Columbia, but across the country. That is exactly why we have the processes we have – to put as much rigour as possible into decisions of this magnitude, to apply objective evidence. The Trans Mountain expansion has gone through all official approvals, as well as several unofficial ones, and has been recognized as a ground-breaking leader in engaging Indigenous communities. Our regulatory process, in imposing 194 specific national and provincial conditions for the project, plus the federal commitment to a $1.5-billion ocean protection plan, has ensured strong environmental standards will be met. British Columbia’s own five additional conditions ensured even stronger environmental requirements, even greater Indigenous involvement and a great deal of community-benefit money. That approval was hard-won.
John Horgan of the NDP and Andrew Weaver of the Greens, both of whom vowed during the campaign to stop Trans Mountain (in Mr. Horgan’s hopefully forgetful words, “use every tool in the toolbox” to stop it), must remember that the final go-ahead by the B.C. government was given by the B.C. government – not the BC Liberal Party. The campaign is over, and government decisions are not to be used as political footballs.
Not only does the law not let us play this game, it is a classic example of cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face.
Investment, both foreign and domestic, is critical to British Columbia’s and Canada’s prosperity. And both British Columbia and Canada have already developed a frustrating, and internationally embarrassing, reputation for not being able to get anything built. The worst thing we can do, for British Columbia and for Canada as a whole, is to threaten to stop Trans Mountain, to work to reverse the approvals already achieved.
Banana republics do that. Canada must not. There is a reason why investors avoid countries where they cannot count on a responsible regulatory environment, where decisions can be made and unmade based on political whims, and who may or may not be in power at any moment. Countries where democracy and the rule of law are prized hold that decisions of previous governments should be upheld. A healthy investment climate depends on it.
Add to that the fact that the Trans Mountain expansion falls under federal jurisdiction. Neither provincial governments nor municipalities have, under the Constitution, the power to block cross-border pipelines. Of course they have the right to raise local concerns – and other provinces, as well as the federal government, need to listen, understand, and yes, sometimes compromise. We need to ensure best practices in terms of safety and the environment.
But let us remind Mr. Horgan and Mr. Weaver that this has already been done – exhaustively.
And that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leader of that federal government, made up his mind to also support the Trans Mountain expansion. The federal government did not give the go-ahead just to say so – it gave the go-ahead in order that the project actually be built. We can expect the Prime Minister and the federal government to uphold that decision, and to fight for it.
Many issues were raised in the B.C. election – housing, education, transportation – all important to British Columbians. No matter where the final seat tally lands, all three leaders – Ms. Clark, Mr. Horgan and Mr. Weaver – would do well to focus on those issues, and leave to proceed those things that have already been decided.
Martha Hall Findlay is the president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation.