Senate QP: All about Trans Mountain

After a delay due to votes in the Commons, Senate QP got underway with special guest star, natural resources minister Jim Carr. Senator Larry Smith led off, raising the Trans Mountain pipeline and wondering how the minister was supposed to move the project forward. Carr noted that the government approved the pipeline because they believe it’s good for Canada, and noted that while BC has decided it wants to consult, Canada has already done so in order to not make the same mistakes that were made with Northern Gateway. Smith wondered if there was any kind of contingency plan to deal with future obstacles, and Carr noted that they had already intervened before the National Energy Board, who agreed with the government position, and permitting continues at pace and that pace is determined by Kinder Morgan. 

Senator Tkachuk raised the bill that Senator Black put forward to declare the project to be in the national interest, and if he could table any formal correspondence with the BC government. Carr noted that they have a consistent message that they support the pipeline.

Senator Day asked about Energy East and its cancellation and how they could ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Carr noted the various facts that changed in the time between when the project was floated and when the proponent decided to cancel it, and added that the criteria Cabinet would evaluate it by did not change despite the NEB’s changed criteria. Day asked the supplemental of whether the government could support the notion of a pipeline that takes oil from west to east. Carr noted that he couldn’t answer a hypothetical or give comment to a hypothetical pipeline without knowing how many rivers it crossed or Indigenous territories it traversed.

Senator Bovey asked about the plight of Churchill, Manitoba, and wanted to know what tech government’s plans were for the town. Carr noted that Churchill had enormous potential, but had immediate needs that they were trying to address through Nutrition North, and that they were optimistic about the negotiations around restoring transportation links.

Senator Wallin returned to the Trans Mountain issue, which had repercussions for steel producers in Saskatchewan, and she wanted assurances around how long they would wait before exerting their constitutional authority. Carr assured her that he was aware of that steel producer and that it has already been declared in the national interest, before he digressed into an exploration of the policy goals of this pipeline as a transition measure as we move to the green economy.

Senator Unger also had a Trans Mountain question, and was worried about foreign-funded illegal protesters who had injured RCMP officers at pipeline sites. Carr reminded her once again that the government has already approved the pipeline and that they believe it’s good for Canada, and digressed into talk about diversifying export markets not only for oil and gas, but also things like forestry and LNG.

Senator Patterson asked about the coming carbon tax to Nunavut and whether the government would hold off on implementing it until they can get alternate energy projects into place. Carr noted that the Canadian Energy Strategy helped to develop said strategy, but didn’t really answer whether they would be open to a delay.

Senator Jaffer asked about questions Elizabeth May has regarding Trans Mountain, such as refining in Alberta, and the process involved. Carr laid out some facts, such as the fact that diluted bitumen has been running through the existing pipeline for decades, that the increase in tanker traffic added up to one a day, and that they have their oceans protection plan.

Senator McPhedran raised the UNDRIP considerations of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and worried about violent response to pipeline protests. Carr reminded her of the right to protest, so long as it is peaceful, and also noted that they learned from the failure of the Northern Gateway in order to ensure proper Indigenous consultation and the development of the monitoring committees.

Senator Lankin was asked about the potential competitiveness chapter being included in NAFTA, particularly as that it could limit regulations in Canada. Carr noted that he couldn’t comment on speculation, but said there was an energy chapter that they were negotiating in concert with their counterparts.

Senator Plett returned to the issue of Churchill and its rail line, and Carr took a couple of swipes at moves the previous government made that hurt Churchill, and reiterated the fact that the government is moving to ensure that there is a new agreement.

Overall, it was a bit one note in that Trans Mountain was virtually the only thing senators asked about, and there wasn’t a lot that Carr could say in return other than the fact that the government approved the pipeline and they stood behind it. The fact that they kept asking variations of the same question didn’t help in getting variations of answers, other than it prompted Carr to go on digressions. I would draw some particular attention to his response to Senator Day surrounding Energy East in which he laid out the variety of changed conditions between when the pipeline was floated and when the proposal was withdrawn, which most of the commentators seem to forget.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go put to Senator David Wells for a tailored black suit with a crisp white shirt and red tie, and to Senator Mobina Jaffer for a black dress with a white diamond grid pattern and a white sweater. Style citations go out to Senator Peter Harder for a taupe three-piece suit with a light blue tie and a matching paisley tie, and to Senator Elizabeth Marshall for a salmon pink jacket with black stripes and piping over a black top.