In the aftermath of the Federal Court of Appeal’s horrendous decision to stop work on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, this is what one pipeliner told me that day:
“Eight thousand jobs disappeared this morning, and one of them was mine.”
He was already at work on the project. His whole life for the next several years was wrapped up in the project. In the coming days, it is all but certain his job will be gone, like the thousands of other people who had aligned their lives with this project.
Many of those act as subcontractors, with their own welding firms or consulting firms. That means there will be no employment insurance for them. And since many other jobs are already crewed up for the season, it may be tough to find other work.
These are the very real consequences of this court ruling, as alluded to by Albertan United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney. He said, “They keep moving the goalposts on what is required.
“This is what is creating massive investor uncertainty.
“I think (judges) sometimes they write these decisions in an academic bubble not realizing the real-world consequences.”
Those consequences are coming home, right now, to those thousands of workers. It will also come home to the hotel owners whose rooms were cancelled by the hundreds. You can’t do a $7.4 billion project and not have enormous financial spinoff. That’s all gone to hell in a handbasket.
It will also have consequences in Regina, where Evraz was to be providing the pipe. Keystone XL and Enbridge Line 3 replacement were delayed years, and the proponents ended up with enormous amounts of money tied up in pipe, sitting on the ground, waiting for the go-ahead. The coatings on this pipe aren’t meant for years worth of exposure to the sun, so you will find this pipe has been painted white to protect it. This time around, the pipe for this project was to be manufactured shortly before usage. Sucks to be an Envraz employee, I guess.
Watching the coverage of the exultant First Nations people who had won their court case, I realized this fundamentally comes down to an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. It was clear from the statements of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, that no matter how much consultation takes place under the “duty to consult,” there will never be an affirmative response from them regarding this pipeline. I noted they made all these joyous comments wearing shoes with rubber soles, seeing through plastic glasses, speaking behind a clear acrylic podium into a plastic microphone. The lawyer’s tie was synthetic, as were many others. One of the elderly ladies in the front held a plastic water bottle. The Grand Chief wore a fleece-type jacket. And I’m sure they didn’t ride their horses to the event. I didn’t see any in the background.
So it’s okay to use petroleum and petrochemicals, for everything, as long as it’s not Canadian oil from the oilsands.
And while I didn’t see horses in the background, I did see a number of ships. Large ships. The judgment hinged in part on consideration of the southern resident orca population (why the judgement used the misnomer “killer whale” is beyond me). It’s curious how the court found this pipeline cannot be built until tanker traffic’s impact is studied to death, yet it does not touch on the coal or grain bulkers, nor the wood haulers, private yachts and pleasure craft. All that is just fine, but a few extra tankers could potentially destroy the orcas. And the tankers coming into Washington state aren’t a problem, either. Just the ones associated with this pipeline.
This decision was the worst possible outcome at the worst possible time, just as people were mobilizing to finally get this project done. To say this is demoralizing to the oilpatch is a gross understatement. Some are fittingly apoplectic. Brad Wall, the following day, said on Facebook, “I have never observed or felt this level of western alienation...at least from Saskatchewan and Alberta folks, including 18 years of elected politics in Saskatchewan and even my recollection of the NEP-effect under the elder Trudeau.”
The recent tiff with the Saudis has rekindled public discussion about going ahead with the Energy East pipeline. But recent legislative changes the Liberals are bringing in would make that, or any other pipeline, next to impossible for anyone. As we’ve seen with the deaths of Northern Gateway and Energy East, and now Trans Mountain, the moving goalposts are impossible to ensure a win. The only way a pipeline will get built in this nation now is if the country nationalizes it and builds it, and even that is no longer a sure thing.
There needs to be a fresh start. These things have been studied to death. The studies and consultation need to end. The federal government needs to invoke the notwithstanding clause on all three of these projects and get them built, now.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.