Despite extending a deadline for deciding on next steps for the Trans Mountain pipeline, Transport Minister Marc Garneau says Canadians should still be assured the issue is the “number one priority” for the government.
In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Garneau — who was offered by the government to speak on the matter — said the government needed more time for Indigenous consultation but remains hopeful there will be a “satisfactory” end.
“I think the fact that we have been involved in a very serious way with the Trans Mountain pipeline should provide reassurance to Albertans,” said Garneau when asked about the accusations by Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney that the federal government hasn’t taken the matter seriously enough.
“We hope that we will come to a satisfactory resolution to it.”
WATCH BELOW: Alberta Premier-designate Jason Kenney weighs in on Trans Mountain decision being delayed
On Friday, the government announced it would extend the deadline it was working towards for making a decision on whether to proceed with the Trans Mountain expansion project to June 18, almost one month after the original deadline it had been working towards of May 21.
The deadline comes after the National Energy Board said in February it still believes the project is in the national interest and should proceed.
Officials there made that decision after a fresh environment assessment of the impact of increased tanker traffic on marine life along the west coast, which came after the Federal Court ruled the Canadian government had failed to meet its obligations to study the environmental impact of the project and consult with Indigenous stakeholders.
That decision by the court slapped an injunction on work that had only just begun last summer.
In the fall, the government decided to refer the matter for study back to the National Energy Board, which had until February 2019 to complete its assessment, and also re-launch consultations with 117 Indigenous groups along the pipeline route.
It is that consultation that Garneau now says needs more time and is behind the extension.
But it remains one of the most important files, he noted.
“It’s probably our number one priority as a government at the moment,” Garneau said.
WATCH BELOW: No community will have veto over Trans Mountain expansion, says Sohi
Kenney weighed in on that extension last week, saying that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had told him about it the day prior to the announcement.
“I agreed with the prime minister that they need to make sure they cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’… We certainly don’t want them to have to go back to the drawing board on this for the third time,” Kenney said.
“We will continue to communicate the urgency of this to all Canadians.”
Garneau said the government plans to make it clear to Kenney that it shares his desire to get Alberta oil and gas to market, while being mindful of the environmental impacts — but he also warned that a promise by Kenney to turn off the taps of oil and gas to B.C. if a pipeline is not built will not help matters.
‘I’ve been listening to various people talking about that,” Garneau said, citing industry and government officials.
“I’m just offering my opinion, but I think it would be counterproductive for Alberta. I think it would harm them as much if not more than British Columbia.”