Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Exploring the tangled threads of the TMX controversy

Stacked pipeline pipe.

“And those two things, the environment and the economy, they go together like paddles and canoes. Unless you have both, you won’t get to where you are going, because you can’t have a strong economy without a healthy environment.”

That is a quote from then-Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau from a pre-2015-election document on the Liberal Party’s website.

You can’t say he didn’t warn you.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking at the COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris in November, 2015. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking at the COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris in November, 2015. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

Trudeau went further: He promised to attend the Paris climate meeting – and did.  In a speech delivered to COP21 in Paris on Nov. 30, 2015, the newly elected prime minister said his actions on the climate file would be guided by five principles:

  1. The government will act based on the best scientific evidence and advice
  2. It will support and implement policies that contribute to a low-carbon economy, and this will include carbon pricing
  3. It will work with provinces, cities and Indigenous peoples
  4. It will help the developing world tackle the challenges of climate change.
  5. It will treat the climate crisis as an opportunity to create green jobs and infrastructure plus clean technologieis

“We will not sacrifice growth; we will create growth,” Trudeau said.

“We will support sectors ranging from energy to forestry to agriculture, as they develop technologies to reduce emissions, create high-quality jobs, and contribute to long-term sustainable economic growth. ”

As part of his big finish: “We have an opportunity to make history in Paris – an agreement that supports a transition to a low-carbon economy that is necessary for our collective health, security, and prosperity.”

There was nothing explicit in that speech about winding down the oil sands or easing  Canada out of the conventional oil and gas business.

Indeed, skip ahead to March 9, 2017 and Trudeau’s speech to oil executives in Houston: He trumpeted that Canada was trying to develop three new pipelines:

  • Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain Expansion (TMX)
  • Trans-Canada’s Keystone XL
  • Enbridge’s Line 3

“These ambitious projects will go a long way towards ensuring North American energy security for years to come. I make no bones about it. We’re very proud of this. It’s progress. It’s important. As I said on the very first trip to the oil patch back in 2012, no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”

Read the speech. There’s some right-sounding material about how sustainably the oil will be developed, but make no mistake, Trudeau’s speech was designed to deliver comfort to the oil execs.

Did anyone miss it?

Rachel Notley

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (

In Alberta, NDP Premier Rachel Notley took power in May 2015 — just as the province was settling into a vicious recession created by a collapse in oil prices. She gave speeches to the oil patch that her Progressive Conservative predecessors might have delivered. But in November 2015, her government delivered something called Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan.

It introduced a:

  • carbon tax and rebates
  • hard cap on oil sands carbon emissions at 100 million tonnes/year
  • plan to develop more renewable energy
  • plan to reduce methane emissions
  • plan to eliminate the use of coal for electricity production

Pretty much the whole province bought into it. Among the dignitaries and climate scenesters on stage when Notley introduced the plan was Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema. He called it a historic first step, but not robust enough to ensure Alberta contributed its fair share of carbon cuts towards the global goal of  a maximum 2 degrees Celsius rise in Earth’s atmospheric temperature (more reaction in this Edmonton Journal story).

One goal of Notley’s climate plan was to buy “social licence,” meaning that if her province did the right thing on the climate file, good things would happen with respects to getting a pipeline built to tidewater to ship diluted bitumen from the oilsands. Conservatives hated the idea (too “kumbaya” for them; as an exercise, Google Rachel Notley social licence. Count the columns and articles attacking social licence). Activists hated the idea too.

Thing is, it worked with Trudeau. On Nov. 29, 2016, when he announced cabinet approval for TMX and Line 3 (cabinet rejected the Alberta-to-Kitimat Northern Gateway pipeline), Trudeau said: “Let me say this definitively, we could not have approved this project without the leadership of Premier Notley and Alberta’s climate leadership plan” (source: Alberta Politics blog — The Pipeline File: NDP’s ‘social license’ approach worked where Conservative shouting failed, it’s that simple).”*

Others basically said to hell with TMX. Our old friend Mike Hudema again (“Trudeau cabinet approves Trans Mountain, Line 3 pipelines, rejects Northern Gateway“):

“Apparently Justin Trudeau’s sunny ways mean dark days ahead for climate action and Indigenous reconciliation in Canada. With this announcement, Prime Minister Trudeau has broken his climate commitments, broken his commitments to Indigenous rights, and has declared war on B.C.,” Mike Hudema, a campaigner for Greenpeace, added in a statement.

“If Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to bring Standing Rock-like protests to Canada, he succeeded.”

Now, how would Official B.C. react?

British Columbia

At the outset of the pipeline saga, the Liberal Party (a centre-right coalition party) led B.C., with Christy Clark as premier. On May 11, 2016, she approved the pipeline subject to five conditions.

From the Canadian Press story (“B.C. premier says 5 conditions met on Trans Mountain pipeline“; the conditions are described in detail in the story), we meet the then-official opposition:

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan holds a Smuckers jam jar he says is full of heavy oil or diluted bitumen. (CBC)

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan holds a Smuckers jam jar he says is full of heavy oil or diluted bitumen. (CBC)

Shortly before Clark’s announcement, New Democrat Opposition Leader John Horgan said he plans to “use every tool in our tool box” to stop the pipeline expansion.

He held up a small glass jar full with what he said was heavy oil to show how thick and difficult it would be to clean up if there was a spill.

“This is what risk looks like to our coast,” said Horgan.

B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver said the project represents a massive threat to the province’s environment.

Hmm. Not much talk of social licence from Horgan or Weaver.

Unfortunately, no one stays in power forever. On election day — May 9, 2017 — Clark told her chastened followers, “Well, we won the popular vote.” And they did – 40.36 per cent. But the Liberals, who had governed since 2001, had only 43 seats of 87. Forty-four were needed to form a bare majority in B.C.’s legislature.

By happenstance, the NDP elected 41 members and the Green Party three. After the requisite parliamentary machinations, Horgan became premier of B.C. on June 29, 2017 with Weaver backing him.

Official B.C. was now officially against TMX.


Climate activist Tzeporah Berman

Climate activist Tzeporah Berman

There is no doubt that for some individuals, opposing the TMX project is the new cause of their lives. For activists such as Hudema and Tzeporah Berman, who was a leader in the “war in the woods” at Clayoquot Sound a generation ago, this is exciting stuff.

But you know what? According to the latest poll I could find, about 55 per cent of British Columbians support the pipeline (Ipsos Public Affairs, polling conducted April 24-30 with 1,907 online respondents, reported by Global News on May 2), compared to 37 per cent opposed.

In comparison, the NDP garnered about 40.3 per cent of the vote in the 2017 election, with the Greens polling about 16.8 per cent. That totals 57.1 per cent, or about 20 percentage points higher than than those opposed to TMX. Seems even a lot of NDPers, maybe even Greens, aren’t that worked up over TMX.

Note this quote:

“The people who are opposed, it doesn’t have to be a big group to flood a town hall,” Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, said to Global News. “I think the volume of sound is much louder than the level of public opinion they represent.”

Next door, in Alberta, 84 per cent support TMX with seven per cent opposed.

Despite those pipeline polling numbers, Horgan himself is a popular guy in B.C., with a 53 per cent approval rating, according to a poll released by the Angus Reid Institute (reported on May 9 by the Terrace Standard). In comparison, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson had an approval rating of only 26 per cent.

This poll showed that pipelines weren’t a big winner for Horgan:

The NDP’s pipeline politics were less widely supported, with just 36 per cent of those surveyed approving of how Horgan has handled the contentious Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Why is this such a burning political issue in B.C.?

Kinder Morgan emergency exercise on Burrard Inlet (Courtesy Twitter @KM_Canada)

Kinder Morgan emergency exercise on Burrard Inlet (Courtesy Twitter @KM_Canada)

So why does this appear to be a hill Horgan wants to die on when he’s got other fish to fry, like housing prices?

Here is what he had to say back in early April, when Kinder Morgan issued its May 31 deadline for getting some certainty out of the British Columbia government:

“British Columbians expect their government to stand up for their interests and our coast, and to do everything we can to protect our land and waters, our coastal communities and our local economies.

“The federal process failed to consider B.C.’s interests and the risk to our province. We joined the federal challenge, started by others, to make that point.”

“We believe we need to grow the economy, while protecting the environment. We want to work to address these challenges together. But we will always stand up for British Columbians, our environment and the thousands of jobs that depend on our coast.”

There is no language coming from Horgan that he thinks B.C. has any responsibility to be a good neighbour to Alberta, why the only possible answer to TMX is no. Although one compromise did emerge — B.C. businessman David Black proposed building a $25-billion refinery north of Kitimat that would refine diluted bitumen (dilbit) into lighter petroleum products — it has seemingly dropped off the radar.

The funniest episode so far in this dispute is when B.C. filed suit against Alberta over Bill 12, which allows Notley’s government to turn off the energy taps to B.C., when at the same time it wants to prevent a pipeline from Alberta from carrying dilbit through B.C. We’ll take the oil we need, but go screw yourselves over the dilbit. Personally, I think B.C. would show real leadership if they stopped importing oil and gas from Alberta and shut down the relatively small oil and gas patch in the province’s northeast.

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver.

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver.

B.C. Greens Leader Andrew Weaver must have said something to Horgan about the importance of this file, that this would be the hill he should pick to die on.*

*From Daveberta: “A key section of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and 3-MLA Green caucus that props up BC Premier John Horgans minority government states: Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.”

His party’s three seats are what is propping the NDP government up. On May 29, Weaver said this about the federal government’s decision to buy Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain assets for $4.5 billion: “Investing in this pipeline is like investing in the horse and buggy industry at the advent of the car” (he also once told CBC Radio that a pipeline was simply “offbrand” for Vancouver).

His party’s federal leader, Elizabeth May, a B.C. MP, was arrested and fined $1,500 after taking part in an anti-pipeline protest on March 23. Kennedy Stewart, an NDP MP for Burnaby South, was also arrested and fined $500. He is using his new-found street cred to run for mayor of Vancouver.

But even a green place like Vancouver can’t get by without black gold for the time being, although I concede that the fossil fuels era will wind down at some future point. B.C. seems to want it to wind down quickly for Alberta, not so quickly for itself (Weaver doesn’t like the NDP government’s plan for a Liquid Natural Gas [LNG] terminal in Kitimat — one that would be fed by a [gasp!] pipeline! Weaver doesn’t think B.C. can meet its obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from 2007 levels by 2030 if the project goes ahead).

Why is this a burning issue in Alberta?

In the meantime, economists have estimated that not having tidewater access for its oil is costing Alberta’s economy about $15 billion per year. Asia is predicted to be the growth market for oil.

Alberta’s Rachel Notley has determined that getting the pipeline at least started before Albertans go back to the polls in 2019 is crucial to her slim re-election hopes. She brought in a carbon tax, much disliked in Alberta — and this is critical, it’s something she never campaigned on in the 2015 election — as part of her climate plan to gain social licence. She better get something to show for it. The United Conservative Party led by Jason Kenney has made repealing the carbon tax job one if they form government.

If Alberta is to enjoy relatively low taxes and high government spending into the future, it needs the oil sands. Conventional crude output in the province is expected to decline slightly in the next decade as oilfields mature, says the Alberta Energy Regulator.

To put it in a national frame, take this tidbit from Natural Resources Canada:

In 2014, Canada produced 3.8 mb/d of crude oil. Of this, 2.2 mb/d was produced from the oil sands and the remaining 1.6 mb/d was conventional, offshore, and tight oil production. Globally, only the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China have higher oil production.

Of Canada’s proven reserves of 171 billion barrels, 166.3 billion barrels are found in the oil sands. That could be stretched out to 300 billion barrels as extraction technologies improve. In any event, take the oilsands out of the picture and former prime minister Stephen Harper’s claim that Canada is an energy superpower becomes moot.

Alberta would quickly return to have-not status.

So what do some of the protesters really want to do?

The protesters’ real target

The hardcore climate protesters who have joined forces with the anti-pipeline brigades — who are worried about spills of unrecoverable dilbit and the effects of more shipping on the endangered Southern Resident Orcas — would love to see the oil sands shut down.

Take U.S. environmentalist Bill McKibben of, writing in the Guardian on May 30 (“Say hello to Justin Trudeau, the world’s newest oil executive“):

… Opposition has come from three main sources. First are many of Canada’s First Nations groups, who don’t want their land used for this purpose without their permission, and who fear the effects of oil spills on the oceans and forests they depend on. Second are the residents of Canada’s west coast, who don’t want hundreds of additional tankers plying the narrow inlets around Vancouver on the theory that eventually there’s going to be an oil spill. And third are climate scientists, who point out that even if Trudeau’s pipeline doesn’t spill oil into the ocean, it will spill carbon into the atmosphere.

Lots of carbon: Trudeau told oil executives last year that “no country would find 173bn barrels of oil in the ground and just leave it there”. That’s apparently how much he plans to dig up and burn – and if he’s successful, the one half of 1% of the planet that is Canadian will have awarded to itself almost one-third of the remaining carbon budget between us and the 1.5 degree rise in temperature the planet drew as a red line in Paris. There’s no way of spinning the math that makes that okay – Canadians already emit more carbon per capita than Americans. Hell, than Saudi Arabians.*

*Figures from the World Bank show that in 2014, Canada emitted less carbon per capita than the U.S. or Saudi Arabians. However, it is still a top emitter, just not the top emitter.

Is this a clever financial decision that will somehow make Canada rich? Certainly not in the long run. Cleaning up the tar sands complex in Alberta – the biggest, ugliest scar on the surface of the earth – is already estimated to cost more than the total revenues generated by all the oil that’s come out of the ground.

Tzeporah Berman, who spent a year as part of the Alberta NDP government’s Oil Sands Advisory Group,  told a rally after news came out that the Trudeau government would be buying Kinder Morgan out for $4.5 billion and maybe developing TMX itself:

You know, there are moments in history that our governments fail us, that they are captured by one industry, by the status quo that just has too much political influence … moments when we’re called to stand up. This is one of those moments. …

There is little that motivates as much as betrayal. … I actually believed they (the Trudeau government) were serious when they talked a just transition off fossil fuels. They criticized the Harper government’s pipeline processes, they promised scientific-based decision making and democratic processes. …

Make no mistake, we are living the tipping point, and we will build a low-carbon economy, and it won’t be by building more pipelines!

Here are some recent articles posted to Berman’s Twitter feed to give some further idea of what informs her thoughts:

My thoughts …

I opened this lengthy post with some quotes from Justin Trudeau — his nostrums about balancing the economy and environment, his promises to COP21, his building rapport with oil executives in Houston.

This makes me wonder about Berman’s bleating about betrayal — Perhaps being an Albertan, it seems clear to me that if Trudeau were forced to pick a side, it would be resource development (but I didn’t campaign for Trudeau the way Berman did, or cry on the night he was elected — watch the speech I linked to).

Anti-pipeline activists insinuate that Trudeau is sucking up to Alberta. But I’ll bet Trudeau knows that he’s not going to improve much on the four seats his Liberals won in 2015. It’s more likely he wants his pipeline ally Rachel Notley re-elected in 2019 than have United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney as Alberta’s premier (the provincial Alberta Liberals are in sad shape).

At the same time, Trudeau has 17 seats to worry about in British Columbia. There’s probably more pipeline opposition where his seats are located in the metro Vancouver area than the interior of the province. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party won 14 seats in B.C., has come out against TMX. The Conservatives, who won 10 federal seats in B.C. in 2015, are also pro-pipeline.

But against all this lies the climate issue, which really gets short shrift from the mainstream news media — and indeed from the proponents of TMX. Trudeau never uses the term “climate” in talking about pipelines, just the environment. And media interviewers never call him on it. To be fair, activists never talk about jobs, just emissions, when they talk oil sands.

I’m of the notion that to decarbonize, we need to first attack demand for oil and gas, not necessarily supply structure like a pipeline. In the case of dilbit, it could still be shipped by rail to the Burnaby terminal. Even Andrew Weaver has admitted not much could be done to legally stop it. And it would be a more hazardous way to transport it.

But just having extra pipeline capacity doesn’t mean the pipeline’s vessels will be filled with dilbit if there’s no market there.

As for the big environmentalist goal of shutting down the oilsands, the Alberta Greens polled .49 per cent of the popular vote in the 2015 provincial election. I can’t see any other government even proposing it. Here is part of what the federal Greens say about the oilsands:

Given climate realities and volatile international oil prices, expanding oil sands production is simply not on. Most of the bitumen in the Alberta oil sands must remain in the ground. We will create new jobs in Canada’s oil and gas sector by refining the product we already produce, rather than shipping it out raw for refining in other countries.

Federally, the Greens picked up 3.4 per cent of the vote in the 2015 federal election, and only one seat. They need a major breakthrough to get to official party status, let alone forming government.

Betrayed though they might be, unless the NDP forms federal government in 2019 and kills off TMX (unlikely), the activists are stuck politically. And remember, the B.C. NDP in opposition were opposed to the Site C dam on the Peace River but allowed it to proceed in government.

Who knows, a similar betrayal might befall NDP supporters on the pipeline issue if their party ever forms federal government. Look too at Notley’s government in Alberta — and pray for the carbon demand bubble to pop.

Related reading

Here’s a commentary and news story that I didn’t see until after I finished the piece:

Wed, June 6 2018 » * Big Picture Stuff, Main Page, politics