For those who realize how important the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline Project is for the Canadian economy, there is an increasing level of frustration and exasperation over mounting concern the project will fail.
Work is already underway on the project. Contractors have already been selected for most of the work required to install the new pipe. And yet uncertainty around the project seems to be growing, not diminishing.
This gives us cause to reflect on what’s going on with those in decision-making positions working in support or in opposition for the project.
As it turns out, the current state of affairs is far less mysterious then we have been led to believe by the news. In fact, every political player in this reality TV drama is behaving precisely the way you would expect them to—with one baffling exception.
Let’s take a look at some of the key political characters.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley
Premier Notley has had three years to demonstrate her grit and political prowess. She is clearly courageous enough to stand up to the significant portion of her support base—those opposed to such things as new oil pipelines—in pursuit of a clearly articulated greater goal.
But don’t think her goal is some lofty environmental utopia. Her real goal is reelection. And the only remote chance the NDP have of even mustering a respectable race in the next election is predicated almost entirely on the Kinder Morgan project going ahead.
Premier Notley is to be commended for her strong and persistent work in support of the project. But her behaviour in this act is as predictable as a frigid Alberta forecast in January.
BC Premier John Horgan
The moment Premier Horgan agreed to rely on the support of three Green Party MLAs in BC to secure and preserve his minority government, it was clear that he would be toting the Green line—whether he agreed with it or not—for as long as he could stomach it. Eventually, he may throw in the towel and subject himself and his party to another provincial election. But in the meantime, he simply has no choice but to take the position he is currently holding—NO PIPELINE, EVER!
It doesn’t matter that the majority of British Columbians support moving ahead with the project. And it doesn’t matter that his intransigence is threatening the unity of the NDP party nationally. He doesn’t have a choice.
Whether he likes it or not—and whether he publicly admits it or not—his rigid position on Kinder Morgan is not his choice. He is like a big powerful horse being led down an undesired road by the little green bit in its mouth. It’s as predictable as Vancouver rain in January.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Here’s where the reality TV show offers a surprise. A prime minister courageous enough to pay the political price for approving the pipeline in the first place is now demonstrating a shocking level of ambivalence in the face of opposing pressure from a provincial government.
When the federal government’s authority is subverted by a provincial premier, a prime minister should respond with political force and determination. This is particularly true given that so much has been attached to the importance of the Trans Mountain pipeline project.
Instead, we see a government that has reserved its biggest sticks for ensuring the passage of a variety of socially progressive initiatives, while wielding a twig in the face of pipeline opposition. The big surprise yet could be the moment Prime Minister Trudeau gets serious about advancing this project on the ground. We will have to wait until after the commercial break for that one.
Meanwhile, as the drama continues to play out, the livelihoods of thousands of workers hang in the balance. At peak, the project could employ more than 3,000, and the positive economic benefits of the completed project could result in new jobs for thousands more. And let’s not forget about the incredible opportunity for many Indigenous communities that stand to participate in the project—communities whose voice seems to be lost in the fray.
These are the hidden, but very real, consequences of the unfolding pipeline drama. Let us all hope that a positive resolution emerges soon so we can all get busy building a project that will contribute a great deal to Canada’s future prosperity.