A timeline for when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion may begin is up in the air, as the Liberals announced plans to redo an environmental review of the project.
The National Energy Board (NEB) has less than six months to do the review, this time taking into account the impact of additional oil tanker traffic off the coast of British Columbia.
The government also needs to restart consultations with Indigenous communities, which Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said will be announced shortly.
Friday’s announcement comes about three weeks after the appeal court quashed the NEB and cabinet blessing of the project, citing improper consultation with Indigenous communities and a lack of review of the marine shipping issue.
At the time, Sohi called the news “disappointing” but said the Liberals will continue to work toward getting the expansion built — eventually.
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On Friday, the government did not provide any timeline for when construction on the project would begin.
George Hoberg, a public policy professor at the University of British Columbia, told Global News that construction on the project won’t begin while the environmental review takes place.
“There’s no real chance of anything happening for six months, and probably significantly longer,” Hoberg said. “I think the Liberals are hoping they can begin construction next late spring, but I don’t know whether that’s feasible.”
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The professor noted consultations with Indigenous communities could take even longer than six months.
“The even bigger hurdle is the fact that so many First Nations disagree so fundamentally,” Hoberg said, explaining the Liberals have to tread carefully on the issue.
“They’re also trying to thread that needle where they’re trying to be respectful of First Nations and to demonstrate that they have a strong environmental record,” he said, adding doing both those things while also getting a pipeline expansion built is “very difficult and complicated.”
That means there’s still the possibility that even with the redo of the review and Indigenous consultations, the courts may not be satisfied.
And then there’s the 2019 federal election, which could see a change in government — and a change in plans.
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Hoberg said depending on the party that wins, that could mean very different things.
The Conservatives have been vocal that they would handle the situation very differently than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
Shannon Stubbs, Conservative natural resources critic, reacted to the government’s Friday announcement saying it provides no assurances about the the project.
“Today, there are no timelines for shovels in the ground, no timeline for completion,” she told reporters on Parliament Hill.
“They’ve failed on every timeline they’ve announced,” Stubbs added. “I think Canadians are right to question whether or not Liberals are actually committed to getting the pipeline expansion built.”
The New Democrats also criticized the Liberal government, saying they’re redoing the same review again but hoping for different results.
“The courts just told the Liberals that their consultation plan with Indigenous peoples was insufficient, and now we’re supposed to give the Liberals a do-over,” NDP MP Murray Rankin said during Question Period in the House of Commons Friday.
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Environment groups said the government is ordering the review assuming approval for the project will be reinstated no matter what the NEB finds.
Keith Stewart, an energy strategist with Greenpeace, said the government is treating the latest review as a “box-checking exercise,” adding that isn’t a true consultation process.
Earlier this week, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs also issued a statement urging Trudeau to drop the project entirely.
“This project should never have been approved—it’s a disaster for the climate, and a spill from a diluted bitumen tanker could cause devastation in our coastal waters. The Canadian government needs to accept the verdict of the court and cancel Trans Mountain like it cancelled Enbridge’s Northern Gateway,” UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in the release.
With all the opposition, Hoberg noted that even once construction begins there could be roadblocks and controversy that make building the project difficult.
“If shovels do go into the ground, there are going to be lots of people standing in the way trying to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said. “There’s going to be lots of police involved and arrests.”
— With files from The Canadian Press