The re-election of Justin Trudeau as prime minister of Canada might be good news for Washington residents who oppose the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Or it might not. Either way, the formation of a new Canadian government should reignite efforts in this state against the pipeline and the environmental harm it would bring.
The Trans Mountain Pipeline carries crude oil from the tar sands region of Alberta to British Columbia. Last year, Canada’s federal government purchased the pipeline and announced plans to expand its capacity. The proposal has been met with a variety of lawsuits and opposition from the British Columbia government and environmental groups. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has said, “This is deeply irresponsible. … This is not in the best interests of the people of Washington or of the world.”
The concern is that expanding the pipeline will increase the number of tanker ships traveling through the Salish Sea — the shared waters between British Columbia and Washington that serve as home to endangered orcas. Earlier this year, Inslee said: “We have a good working relationship with Canada and the province of British Columbia, where we recently reiterated our support for shifting our region to a clean-energy economy. Now is the time to protect our orcas and combat climate change, not invest in long-term fossil fuel infrastructure.”
Activists have taken note. A small protest last week at the Port of Vancouver temporarily blocked train tracks to disrupt the transport of pipe segments bound for the pipeline project. In September, about 30 kayakers paddled from Kelley Point Park in Portland to the port to protest a cargo ship carrying piping for the project.
Activists and elected officials here can do little but raise a ruckus in opposition to the project. But some political analysts in Canada believe the results of Monday’s election might have an impact. While Trudeau will remain as prime minister, his Liberal Party lost its majority status in Canada’s multiple-party legislature.
With a ruling minority, Trudeau will have to form a coalition with minor parties that could demand a halt to the pipeline expansion as a condition for their support. As a columnist for the Calgary Herald wrote in September, “The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will never be built unless a majority government is elected.”
Trying to figure out what will happen in Canadian politics is a fruitless endeavor; we can rarely make sense of American politics, let alone a different country. But the federal elections in Canada should rekindle efforts on this side of the border to wield whatever influence we can muster in opposition to the project.
Washington is on the right side of this issue; adding fossil-fuel infrastructure is an ill-considered act at a time when the impact of climate change is clear. But it would be arrogant to try to impose our notion of environmental stewardship on the economy of central Canada. Alberta has a valuable commodity and will find a way to bring it to global markets, regardless of what we think.
Continued expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline through the middle of the United States is one option. That plan is imperfect, but it would better take advantage of already existing infrastructure for the transport and refining of crude oil. The proposed Trans Mountain expansion is an unintended consequence of opposition to the Keystone pipeline.
Ideally, minority parties in Canada will strike a deal that at least temporarily halts the Trans Mountain Pipeline project. If not, Washington officials might need to hope for the next-best scenario.