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BC’s stance on Trans Mountain threatens investment, trade, business leaders say

Trans Mountain pipeline protests are now being met across Canada with counter-demonstrations, as businessmen and women and ordinary working Canadians urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get his arms around a “crisis of confidence” that threatens to
'This is no longer about a pipeline' said Greg D'Avignon, president, Business Council of British Columbia.

Trans Mountain pipeline protests are now being met across Canada with counter-demonstrations, as businessmen and women and ordinary working Canadians urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get his arms around a “crisis of confidence” that threatens to deter investment, provoke a trade war between BC and other provinces and unravel Canada’s climate change plans.

One such gathering was held this morning, April 12, in Vancouver.

A hastily assembled press conference drew more than 100 local business people, who showed up to hear business leaders speak about a letter they have sent to Trudeau, calling on him to assert federal authority and ensure that the $7.4 billion expansion is completed.

The letter is signed by 75 chambers of commerce, mayors, and business and professional associations from Abbotsford to Halifax.

Speaker after speaker spoke of a “crisis of confidence” in Canada as a place where rule of law prevails and where investors who follow regulatory processes are not at risk of losing billions. Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun is among the 75 signatories.

“There comes a time when a leader has to stand up and say something at the local level, and so for me, that day is today,” Braun said.

“What is of key significance is the way that the province is choosing to address this matter, which is placing the global reputation of our country as a safe and secure place to invest and do business at risk.”

On April 8, Kinder Morgan Canada announced it will stop all but essential work on the $7.4 billion pipeline twinning project. It has given the BC and federal governments until May 31 to give the company “clarity” on whether the project can proceed.

Otherwise, it has threatened to cancel the expansion project, putting thousands of jobs and billions in spending and future tax revenue at risk.

But even as the press conference was getting underway Thursday, one of the demands made in the letter was already being met.

The letter calls on Trudeau to convene an emergency meeting with premiers John Horgan and Rachel Notley “to resolve the impasse on the Trans Mountain pipeline project.”

As the press conference got underway, news began to circulate that Trudeau has interrupted a trip to Peru and will fly back to Canada for a meeting with Horgan and Notley Sunday, April 15.

The letter to Trudeau slams BC Premier John Horgan, and essentially calls on the prime minister to put the premier in his place.

“The continued obstructionist position of the current government of British Columbia calls into question whether an agreement can be reached where rule of law will prevail and commercial enterprise can, with confidence, build and operate as business in our country,” the letter states.

Laura Jones, executive vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said pipelines are not just a concern for big business, but for small businesses as well.

“Whether a business is big or small, it’s important to have confidence that government at all levels will respect the laws of this country,” Jones said.

“Creating mayhem and mischief with respect to a project that has already been approved is clearly at odds with this. It puts our economic security at risk, and it cannot be allowed to stand.”

Horgan has vowed to use every tool at his disposal to halt the expansion. While legal experts point out that pipelines are under federal jurisdiction, Horgan has managed to put up enough roadblocks to give Kinder Morgan second thoughts.

He has, for example, said his government will ask for a court reference to determine if the province has the legal authority to restrict any further increased shipments of diluted bitumen from Alberta through BC by pipeline or rail.

“Premier Horgan doesn’t get to pick and chose what runs through that port,” said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association. “That’s the job of the federal government. And there’s a reason for that. We can’t have one province in a successful confederation holding other provinces to ransom.”

“This is no longer about a pipeline,” said Greg D’Avignon, president of the Business Council of British Columbia. “It’s about stability, our faith in democracy, the rule of law and confidence in our country.”

“It is a moment in time that the global and local investors in the business community are watching and this can have lasting consequences to our reputation and our country if not resolved.”

According to Don Braid of the Calgary Herald, the Alberta government plans to introduce the Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act next week – an act that will give Alberta the power to restrict exports of things like oil, refined petroleum products and natural gas between it and other provinces.

The fear is that Alberta, in retaliation for Horgan’s attempts to block the Trans Mountain project, will begin throttling back oil and gasoline to BC, where gasoline prices are already among the highest in North America.

It’s not just the Trans Mountain pipeline project that’s now at risk, warned Dennis Connor, former CEO of QuestAir Technologies.

Connor is one of two dozen clean-tech leaders who have written to Horgan warning him that his attempts to stop the pipeline puts Canada’s climate change strategy, including a national carbon tax, at risk.

“If he (Horgan) succeeds in stopping TMX, he will likely cause the unraveling of the Canadian climate accord and our commitments under the Paris climate agreement,”Connor said.

Signatories to the letter sent to Trudeau include chambers of commerce from across Canada, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Notably absent on the list are any First Nations leaders or associations.

“Aboriginal leaders are still not comfortable in going out in public and saying they support something like this,” said Ellis Ross, former Haisla chief and current Liberal MLA for the Skeena riding.

“And I really want to call on those leaders to join leaders like myself, Dallas Smith, Joe Bevan, Ernie Crey from Sto:lo. We need support from other aboriginal leaders who have signed onto Kinder Morgan, who signed onto fish farms, who signed onto LNG. We need your support because it’s actually aboriginal families and workers that get affected at the end of the day too.”

Should Trudeau fail to get Horgan to stand down when he meets with him Sunday, business leaders are calling on the prime minister “to utilize all appropriate federal powers at your disposal, including expand, if required, the Ocean Protection Plan, to ensure the Trans Mountain pipeline project proceeds without further delay.”

But that plan already includes $1.5 billion of spending, and has done nothing to the mollify Horgan’s government on its concerns that increased shipments of diluted bitumen by tanker puts B’s coastline at risk of a spill. It’s not clear what additional spending under the plan would accomplish.

Trudeau has other tools available, including constitutional authority to deem a project in the national interest and essentially nullify any provincial or municipal laws that might be used to stall a project.

While the federal government has the ultimate authority over interprovincial pipelines, it has not asserted that authority yet.

Nelson Bennett / Business In Vancouver