Last week, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The judgment was critical of the former Conservative government’s approach to consultation, but the judges wrote one line in particular that stuck with me.
“Of greater concern are the remarks attributed to the then Minister of Natural Resources,” wrote the court, referring to Joe Oliver’s public endorsement of the pipeline. He told a newspaper reporter that Northern Gateway was “in the national interest” while the pipeline was still under review. It was one of many facts that led the court to determine that the feds, in order to get the pipeline built, ran roughshod over the established process.
As many of you are aware, I took a lot of heat in these opinion pages for my decision not to support a symbolic motion by the Conservative Opposition calling for the support of Energy East — a project under review by the National Energy Board.
The reason I didn’t support this theatrical motion was because I didn’t want to be the next Joe Oliver. By supporting that motion, Energy East down the line could have suffered the same fate as Northern Gateway.
At the risk of sounding like one of my law school professors, it is inappropriate for a government to weigh in on — let alone endorse — a project that is under review by an independent administrative body. The former government found that out the hard way.
How confident would you be in the legitimacy of the NHL if commissioner Gary Bettman openly declared his preferred team to win the Stanley Cup at the start of each season?
As I have stated many times, I want to see Alberta’s resources get to tidewater. However, there is a difference between being a cheerleader and achieving success with this file.
Letting the process run its course adds to its credibility, which should help the project gain its social license to operate from Canadians, which is critical if Albertans are to get our oil to tidewater. And we all know the ability to export our province’s key resource to global markets is important to the economy of our province and our country.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we are already responding. We have restored credibility to the NEB, and we are taking our duty to consult seriously. The government recently committed to harmonizing Canada’s laws with the standards set out in the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Working to address First Nations’ concerns is one of the key factors the court indicated will help assure all Canadians that pipeline approvals are subject to a fair process. A fair process will ultimately help business in Alberta.
The Conservative Opposition tried to play politics with pipelines. And I will give the Opposition party credit where credit is due — they play the game of politics well. They set me between a rock and a hard place. Either I supported the motion and put the independence of the Energy East review into question, or I voted against it, and be cast as anti-Albertan.
I understand why everyone was up in arms, thinking that I wasn’t supporting Calgary’s most important industry. But that’s not a mistake I would make. With the benefit of hindsight, and this Federal Court of Appeal judgment, I hope that Calgarians now see the wisdom in our position on the Conservative Energy East motion. It would have been foolish and short-sighted of us to support it, as it would have placed our goal of accessing tidewater in jeopardy.
Politics is a tough business — there’s no denying it — and sometimes, I feel more practical than political. But if I must play, let it be the long game.
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