Common ground

Conservatives join NDP in blasting Trudeau’s pipeline bailout

Despite conflicting positions on energy and environment, left and right are united against the Liberals spending billions to guarantee Trans Mountain expansion
Photo: Fred: / Flickr CC

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5-billion has brought together unusual allies across the political spectrum. Many from the pro-pipeline camp have joined pipeline protestors to slam the decision to invest Canadian taxpayer dollars into the beleaguered project.

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Shannon Stubbs, Conservative shadow minister for natural resources, said that the government bailout is a “travesty,” adding that “the taxpayer purchase of the pipeline has done nothing to change the scenario or to actually start its construction.”

Despite the Conservative Party and NDP having conflicting positions on the pipeline and energy development, Stubbs said the Conservatives have found common ground with the federal NDP on the issue. “We all have the same perspective on putting all of this risk to taxpayers and putting them on the hook for billions of dollars.”

She said that at a recent natural resources committee meeting, she and Richard Cannings, the federal NDP’s natural resources point person, were “equally stunned” that the Liberals failed to provide a rough timeline for the pipeline’s construction or its in-service date, as well as information about where the money from the sale will go. “We’re going in the wrong direction by spending billions of dollars on the fossil fuel industry, when we should be going in the other direction to a low-carbon future,” Cannings told Ricochet.

“They’ve sunk 4.5-billion tax dollars into the old existing pipeline, and $1.5-million went to bonuses for executives at the company. Not one cent of it went to building the new expansion,” Stubbs said. “They’ve made Canadians owners of the pipeline, so it’s incumbent upon then to ensure the money is going to what they said it was — which was building the expansion.”

A U.S. Securities Exchange Commission regulatory document dated May 28, the day before the sale was officially announced, revealed that two Kinder Morgan executives were awarded $1.5-million each as “retention bonuses.”

Stubbs said that the Conservatives hope the federal government gets Trans Mountain back into private-sector hands as soon as possible.

Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, echoed Stubbs, saying that he “supports the building of the pipeline — if the pipeline is built with private money.”

Kinder Morgan and the federal government are currently shopping for a buyer for the pipeline.

“The economic case for the pipeline is only strong if it’s being paid for by a private company. The minute you start sinking billions of tax dollars into it, you defeat the purpose of it as an economic endeavour,” he said.

“The purpose of public money is for government to spend on public services and not for private pockets, whether that is Bombardier, automakers, green energy or oil pipelines.”

Wudrick added that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is not optimistic that Trudeau will be able to build and sell the project, noting that the last time the government insisted they were going to make money off a company bailout — in 2009, when the federal and Ontario governments invested in Chrysler Group and General Motors — Canadian taxpayers lost over $3.7-billion.

Kinder Morgan and the federal government are currently shopping for a buyer for the pipeline. If there is no taker by July 22, Kinder Morgan will present the $4.5-billion offer to shareholders. If approved, the sale will be completed in August or September. The pipeline is set to take two and a half years to complete. In the meantime, Canada will be trying to woo investors with an interest in taking on the project once it is complete.

Wudrick said that he does not believe the Liberals have the “political will” to push the construction of the pipeline forward.

Fragile investment climate?

Matthieu Bédard, an economist from the Montreal Economic Institute, said the nationalization of the project “sends a message abroad that it’s very difficult to invest and get projects going in Canada.”

In his view, the federal government should have “put fists to the table” after the project was green-lit by courts and environmental regulators.

While he hopes the project will “go through and be back in private hands sooner rather than later,” he said there is no way of knowing at this stage whether it will ever be completed.

Canada’s “fragile” investment situation is compounded, Bédard asserted, by the “$84-billion worth of projects cancelled since the beginning of 2017,” among them Energy East, Northern Gateway, Pacific NorthWest and Aurora.

He said that while Canada “stagnates,” the U.S. is “much more competitive than it used to be” on account of increased environmental deregulation and the lowering of its corporate tax rate. President Trump has been a loud and forceful ally to the oil and gas industry, who are key in his mission to assert American energy dominance.

June 1 marked one year since the Dakota Access pipeline successfully began operations, transporting crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois after Trump signed an executive order to revive the project just days into his presidency. Last week, Kinder Morgan’s Texas subsidiary announced its plan to develop a natural gas pipeline from west Texas to the Gulf Coast and Mexico.

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