Rather than request that the Supreme Court of Canada hear an appeal of a ruling that stalls the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, the Liberals opted last week to launch additional consultations with Indigenous stakeholders to address failings cited in the court decision that halted the project.
But Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney says the federal government should have done both.
In an interview with the West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Kenney said the uncertainty wrought upon the project by repeated court challenges and political gridlock jeopardizes future energy investment. Appealing to the Supreme Court, he said, would result in clearer rules defining exactly what is owed to Indigenous communities in terms of consultations for next time.
“To be clear, I’m saying they should be doing both things at the same time,” Kenney said.
“They could go to the Supreme Court at an appeal and they should do so. On this, Premier Notley and I agree. We need clarity, not just for this but for future projects, not just for pipelines but other major infrastructure projects.”
WATCH BELOW: Will a Trans Mountain Pipeline consultation actually be meaningful?
In August, the Federal Court of Appeal put the brakes on the Trans Mountain expansion by ruling that the original approval by the National Energy Board was inadequate for not considering the impact of increased tanker traffic from the project on coastal ecosystems.
It also said the Liberals had failed to adequately consult Indigenous communities in their latest round of talks related to the expansion.
As a result, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced last month that the National Energy Board would undertake an environmental assessment focusing specifically on the marine impact of the expansion. The review needs to be completed by February 2019.
Last week, he also announced the government would not pursue an appeal and would restart consultations.
He did not, however, give a timeline for those talks or say when construction will actually restart.
Kenney said the uncertainty from the ruling needs to be settled by the top court.
“The courts keep changing the goalposts on what is the federal government’s duty to consult First Nations,” he said. “We need clarity on this for the future and I believe there’s a very good chance the Supreme Court would overturn this.”
He also suggested the legal challenges to the project don’t reflect the voices of Indigenous groups that support it.
“Why don’t they get a voice share? Why is all the legal power only in the hands of a small minority of typically foreign-funded First Nations, in this case that aren’t even on the pipeline route?”
The federal consultations will include 117 First Nations.
Construction on the project was supposed to resume this summer but has not done so.
That comes after the firm pushing for the expansion, Kinder Morgan, walked away earlier this year. The Liberals bought the existing pipeline infrastructure from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.
That does not include the cost of the expansion.