Ottawa (AFP) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia on Monday to “stop obstructing” construction of a pipeline to Pacific tidewater, vowing that the Trans Mountain project “will get built.”
At the same time, the premier of neighboring oil-rich but landlocked Alberta, Rachel Notley, warned that the standoff with British Columbia risked triggering a constitutional crisis.
Both were reacting to US firm Kinder Morgan’s announcement that it was suspending most work on the pipeline while the intergovernmental row continued, as it created an unacceptable risk for investors.
“The Trans Mountain pipeline was approved after a rigorous regulatory review and British Columbia should stop obstructing the project,” Trudeau told a news conference.
He said he had a “long conversation” with British Columbia Premier John Horgan in which he urged him to respect federal jurisdiction in the matter.
“This is a pipeline in the national interest, and it will get built,” he said.
Ottawa approved in 2016 the tripling of the 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) Trans Mountain pipeline’s capacity to carry 890,000 barrels of oil from the Alberta oil sands to the port of Vancouver, for shipping overseas.
But it continued to face protests and legal challenges from environmental and indigenous groups as well as municipalities concerned about the risk of oil spills along Canada’s pristine Pacific coast impacting fisheries and tourism.
British Columbia’s new social democratic government joined the fight against the project late last year when it looked all but lost.
On Sunday, Kinder Morgan gave a May 31 deadline to resolve the dispute between British Columbia and Alberta, which is backed by Saskatchewan and Ottawa.
“While we have succeeded in all legal challenges to date, a company cannot litigate its way to an in-service pipeline amidst jurisdictional differences between governments,” Kinder Morgan chief executive Steve Kean said in a statement.
Trudeau did not say how far he would go to get the project underway, but observers suggested he could declare federal jurisdiction on all provincial and municipal lands along the pipeline route to halt local interference in the project.
Notley, meanwhile, said Alberta was considering buying into the Can$7.4 billion (US$5.9 billion) project to reassure investors, and to highlight her government’s resolve.
Failure to get it built, she warned, could “tear the fabric of confederation for many, many years to come.”