British Columbia is keeping the door open to continuing its own legal challenge of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, despite Thursday’s major court setback for the project.
The Federal Court of Appeal has quashed federal approval of the pipeline expansion over a failure to consult with First Nations, and also pointed to a failure by the National Energy Board (NEB) to consider the increased tanker traffic the project would generate.
That decision put the brakes on pipeline construction, at the very least freezing it until the government can organize new consultations with First Nations.
WATCH: B.C. premier congratulates First Nations group on Trans Mountain court victory
Despite this, B.C. Premier John Horgan said his government still sees value in a reference case filed to the BC Court of Appeal over whether the province can regulate the flow of bitumen through pipelines in its territory.
“Our reference case establishing jurisdiction not just for this government but for future B.C. governments is still important,” Horgan said.
“The question of the environment was of course not an issue in 1867. It was just vaguely touched upon in 1980 when the constitution was repatriated. So I believe that the arguments about where the environment rests in terms of jurisdiction in Canada is still important.”
WATCH: ‘Our coast was not considered by the National Energy Board,’ says John Horgan
Horgan congratulated the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation for its “hard-fought” court case, adding that the ruling reaffirmed indigenous rights and title, along with Canadians’ need to give those rights greater consideration.
He added that British Columbians who have for years called the NEB process flawed “have been vindicated.”
“What that means of course for British Columbia, is our coast is considered to be an integral part of the decision-making process, and marine traffic was not adequately assessed by the NEB or by the order in council to proceed with Kinder Morgan,” Horgan said.
“I don’t think its about winning and losing, its about the rule of law.”
WATCH: ‘I think that Alberta will acknowledge this is a court ruling,’ says John Horgan
As for B.C.’s relations with neighbouring Alberta, which boiled over into a mini trade war last spring — in large part due to B.C.’s threat to try and restrict bitumen flows — Horgan said he believes the province will acknowledge the court ruling, and is within its rights to appeal.
He added that he’s sensitive to Albertans’ feelings about the project, but that his focus remains west of the Rockies.
“Certainly I understand that this is going to be a devastating decision for many in Alberta, and I respect that,” Horgan said.
“But my responsibility is to the people of British Columbia. And our position is that the marine environment is part and parcel of our vibrant economy and it wasn’t considered by the previous federal government and it wasn’t given due consideration by the current government.”
Horgan said that the province’s next steps will be clearer in the coming weeks, but said his priority now is on the B.C. economy and working with other provinces on issues where they can find common ground, such as NAFTA trade negotiations.