OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after accusing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau of sharing the alleged anti-energy industry bias of his father, Pierre, vowed Wednesday to follow “expert” advice on the proposed $7.9-billion Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline to B.C.
Harper was referring to a federal review panel’s report submitted to the government in December.
The panel declared that the project, which would deliver at least 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen crude daily from Alberta to Kitimat, is in the national interest and should be approved, subject to 209 conditions.
Harper’s comment was one of the strongest indications yet that his government is going to give the go-ahead to the project in a decision expected early next week.
Harper, responding to Trudeau’s appeal in the House of Commons to “do the right thing and say no” to Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.’s megaproject, raised the memory of Pierre Trudeau’s 1980 National Energy Program.
The NEP, which promoted Canadian ownership and used the tax system to shift energy revenues from Western to Eastern Canada, was reviled in Alberta and other oil- and gas-producing regions of the West.
“Mr. Speaker, I understand the ideological opposition of the Liberal party to the energy industry, which of course, goes back to the days of his father,” Harper responded during question period.
He then said the National Energy Board-Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency joint review panel undertook a “rigorous” analysis of the proposal to build twin 1,177-kilometre pipelines from the Edmonton area to Kitimat.
He said his government is still in the process of examining the panel’s lengthy report.
“The government will act on the recommendations of experts.”
Trudeau, who has spoken favourably about Kinder Morgan’s proposed construction of a new $5.4-billion oilsands pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, said Enbridge has badly mismanaged its project.
“The Northern Gateway pipeline project has failed in its duty to consult with First Nations. It has failed to reassure Canadians that the Great Bear Rainforest will be protected. It has failed to show those whose jobs and livelihoods depend on the Pacific Ocean that catastrophic spill can be prevented.
“So will the government of Canada do the right thing and say no to the Northern Gateway pipeline?”
Two B.C. New Democratic Party MPs also went after the Harper government, with Victoria MP Murray Rankin urging the Tory cabinet to “reject this grotesque proposal.”
NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) said Ottawa’s “arrogance” in pushing the project through despite public opposition will end up hurting other industrial projects.
He called on B.C.’s 21 Conservative MPs to “stand up for British Columbia.”
Conservative MP Kelly Block told the NDP that projects like Northern Gateway “will only proceed if they’re safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.”
With federal approval appearing inevitable, five groups have launched legal actions seeking to block the project.
Enbridge has indicated it won’t be able to begin construction until legal challenges are resolved and the 209 conditions are met. The company has indicated that work won’t begin until at least the latter part of 2015 — or a few weeks or months before the next federal election that is scheduled for October of next year.
Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency reported Wednesday that Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, at a conference in New York, was indicating there could be delays in the project.
“Obviously, this is an extensive report with 209 conditions, and the government obviously has the clear option of taking that on its face, or other options that would or could include delays,” Rickford told the news agency.
However, a federal official cautioned that Rickford wasn’t signalling a particular direction the government is intending to take. Instead, he was only laying out the various options for Ottawa which have always included rejecting the project outright, accepting the project subject to the 209 conditions, or accepting while adding new conditions.