As expected, the federal Liberal government is giving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion a second lease on life.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced approval of the project and said work will begin this construction season.
The decision to re-approve the project comes nine months after the Federal Court of Appeal ripped up the original federal approval, citing incomplete Indigenous consultations and a faulty environmental review. Trudeau said the court told the government it needed to do better.
“And you know what?” Trudeau said. “They were right.”
The Liberals ordered the National Energy Board to look at marine shipping impacts and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi started another round of consultations with Indigenous communities affected by the project.
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod was not surprised by the decision, but doubted the government’s ability to get shovels in the ground.
“I’m not all that optimistic that this government can get it done,” McLeod told KTW.
She said there remain hurdles for Trudeau’s government to overcome and doubted his commitment, but said if construction can get underway, the project would be a boon to the region.
“For the North Thompson especially, with the closure of Canfor in Vavenby, this is a potential lifeline for the construction season if it goes ahead,” she said.
Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir told KTW she didn’t see a lot of meaningful dialogue in this latest round of consultations and remains concerned about cultural heritage sites in the region, such as Pipsell in the Jacko Lake area.
“There are still many issues that need to be considered to protect many areas within our traditional territory,” she said.
Casimir said she looks forward to the ongoing dialogue with Canada to address concerns about the pipeline’s route.
In terms of rifts within the Tk’emlups community, such as opposition voiced by groups like the Tiny House Warriors, Casimir said there will always be those on either side of the issue.
“Not everyone is going to support everything. We all have our reasons and our values that we stand behind,” she said.
Tk’emlups has a $3-million community benefits agreement with Trans Mountain.
Terry Lake, who was recently acclaimed as the local Liberal candidate in the October federal election, said he has always been a proponent of the pipeline.
“It’s part of a comprehensive climate action plan that includes a cap on oilsands emissions and the carbon tax,” he said.
Lake said the idea behind the approval is that it will allow for a transition to a low-carbon economy.
“I think this is a good transition toward a low-carbon economy that doesn’t strain resources for the Thompson Valley, particularly the North Thompson. There couldn’t be a better time for this announcement to come through,” he said.
Kamloops lawyer and local federal Green candidate Iain Currie was disappointed, but not surprised to hear the pipeline was approved. He believes the government should take the billions it will spend building the pipeline and invest it in green energy.
“What the Greens and environmentalists and many Indigenous groups are saying is that the choice is between the expansion of oil production and the environment,” Currie said.
“Many more tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere because of the expansion of oil production in Canada is directly contrary to the stated goals of the Trudeau government to meet its emission targets.”
Local NDP candidate Gina Myhill-Jones, whose party has called for a cancellation of the expansion, said she saw the approval coming since the government bought the pipeline over a year ago.
"I think whether or not they're going to do anything immediately depends an awful lot on response, it [the pipeline] being an election issue," said Myhill Jones, noting she doesn't think any construction will begin before the October election.
Shane Gottfriedson, former Tk’emlups te Secwepemc chief and B.C. director for Project Reconciliation, an Indigenous group looking to buy a majority stake in the expansion project, said it’s exciting times now that the pipeline has been approved.
“We’ve got to find out what the next steps are and the process for our next engagement with Canada,” Gottfriedson said.
“I think if Canada said tomorrow they’re going to be open for offers amongst First Nations, we’re ready to go.”
Gottfriedson said the purchase would be a step toward economic sovereignty for First Nations people.
Kamloops Chamber of Commerce president Joshua Knaak described the news as “terrific” for all of Western Canada and is confident the conditions imposed on the project will be met as the government owns the pipeline.
“As one of the major staging areas, there are a lot of businesses in town that were counting on this, ranging from hospitality to the service industry to pipeline support-type companies,” Knaak said.
Meanwhile, the Tiny House Warriors released a statement, maintaining the pipeline expansion will never be completed on Secwepemc land, which includes 50 per cent of the proposed pipeline route.
The Tiny House Warriors are a group of Secwepemc members opposed to the pipeline expansion project. They are now based near Blue River, where they are building tiny houses that they plan to place in the path of the pipeline expansion.
“The Trudeau government does not have the right to put a pipeline through unceded Secwepemc land,” said Kanahus Manuel, a spokesperson for the Tiny House Warriors.