Pipeline pronouncement: Liberals to pass judgment on Line 3, Northern Gateway

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project's Westeridge loading dock (where the green tanks are pictured) is seen in Burnaby, B.C. on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

OTTAWA - Months of government messaging on balancing economic growth with environmental stewardship will be put to the test Tuesday afternoon when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clears the air on at least two major pipeline proposals.

Trudeau will hold a news conference at 4:30 p.m. ET, after markets close, followed by a meeting with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

The Liberal government had promised decisions on two Enbridge projects by last Friday, but delayed the announcement until after cabinet had met with the prime minister — a meeting that took place Tuesday morning.

A third pipeline proposal from Kinder Morgan must be decided upon by Dec. 19.

The broad strokes of a year-long Liberal government effort to position the government between fossil fuel development advocates, indigenous groups and climate policy hawks played out during question period in the House of Commons.

Rona Ambrose, the Conservative interim leader, said it is not enough for the Liberals to approve major pipelines; it must then "champion them through to the end" in order to see that they actually get built.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, by contrast, accused the Liberals of a "Goldilocks approach" that has browbeat the Liberal party's own environmentally conscious, anti-pipeline MPs into silence.

Trudeau was happy to claim the middle ground.

"One side of this House wants us to approve everything and ignore indigenous communities and environmental responsibilities," he said.

"The other side of the House doesn't care about the jobs or the economic growth that comes with getting our resources to market."

The stalled Northern Gateway oil pipeline from Alberta through the Great Bear Rain Forest to Kitimat, B.C., has so far been thwarted in the courts for lack of proper indigenous consultation.

A less prominent Enbridge project would see the half-century-old Line 3 pipeline from Alberta through southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the United States replaced by an entirely new line about twice the current pipeline's capacity.

Both were supposed to be decided by the end of last week.

The Liberals are also mulling over Kinder Morgan's controversial bid to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the port in Burnaby, B.C., a project that has spawned protests from Victoria to Charlottetown.

The pipeline decisions follow weeks of Liberal government announcements on climate change policies, including an accelerated coal phase-out and a national floor price on carbon emissions starting in 2018.

Trudeau confirmed Tuesday that he'll be holding a meeting with provincial and territorial premiers as well as indigenous leaders on Dec. 9 in Ottawa, where the pan-Canadian climate plan will be the main focus of the agenda.

U.S. vice-president Joe Biden will also be making a visit to Ottawa on Dec. 8-9 — perhaps one last opportunity for the Liberals to showcase their environmental policy entente with outgoing President Barack Obama before president-elect Donald Trump's inauguration in January.

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