The federal government is well-placed to wrap up consultations with 117 Indigenous communities over the Trans Mountain expansion within 90 days.
But Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi says they will stay at the table if talks take longer.
In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Sohi said the recommendation of the National Energy Board on Friday that the controversial pipeline expansion go forward — with conditions — marks a “major milestone” and that he is hopeful a separate stream of consultations with impacted Indigenous communities will also conclude within the next three months.
It followed similar remarks to CBC’s Power and Politics on Feb. 22.
“The work that we have done so far and the work we will continue to do in the coming months, I can tell you that I feel that we are in a very strong position to conclude these consultations within the next 90 days,” he said.
“But we must get it right.”
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Last summer, the Federal Court of Appeal slapped an injunction on work for the Trans Mountain expansion.
At issue was what the ruling described as an inadequate review by the National Energy Board (NEB) of marine impacts of the expansion on the West Coast, as well as a failure by the Liberal government to adequately consult with Indigenous stakeholders along the pipeline route.
The first prompted a new review by the NEB that recommended on Friday that the project proceed, subject to 156 conditions and recommendations including reducing the amount of emissions from tankers passing through the terminal area and decreasing underwater noise to reduce impacts on nearby whales.
There is now a 90-day time frame for the federal cabinet to decide how and if the project should go forward.
The second issue flagged by the court led to the government launching renewed consultations with 117 Indigenous communities along the pipeline route — but that came with no public timeline for completion.
As a result, the government has faced questions over when those will wrap up and whether work on the pipeline will be able to resume before the fall election.
Sohi said the eight teams he has working on the consultations have already met with “close to 85 communities.”
He has met directly with roughly 50, he said.
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Sohi said the focus has been working on ways to find accommodations for communities with concerns or if that isn’t possible, explaining why not.
But he said even if there are outstanding concerns, that doesn’t mean the project will necessarily be scrapped.
“At the end of the day, no one community has a veto on this project,” he said.
The Liberals bought the Trans Mountain pipeline and its associated infrastructure last spring for $4.5 billion after Kinder Morgan walked away from the project.
Construction was supposed to resume over the past summer, with an eye to completion in 2021.
However, the state of work on the pipeline and broader federal support for the Alberta oil industry is shaping up to be a significant issue of the fall election.