Canada: Trudeau vows to push ahead with pipeline plans in spite of protests | World news

Justin Trudeau has said Canada’s government is prepared to use taxpayer dollars to push forward plans for a controversial pipeline expansion, despite protests and efforts by a provincial government to halt the project on environmental grounds.

For months, the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia have been locked in a standoff over plans, spearheaded by Texas-based Kinder Morgan, to expand an existing pipeline and lay nearly 1,000km of new pipe from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific coast.

While the project could allow Alberta to get its landlocked bitumen to markets in Asia and reduce its reliance on the US market, it has encountered opposition in British Columbia over the potential for oil spills and the impact that a dramatic rise in tanker traffic could have on the region’s southern resident killer whales, a population already on the knife edge of extinction.

The political stalemate over the C$7.4bn project catapulted into the national conversation last week after Kinder Morgan Canada announced it would walk away from the project unless it saw a clear path to completion by the end of May.

Their project has now become a crucial test for Trudeau and his Liberal government, who swept into office in 2015 on promises of striking a balance between economic growth, environmental concerns and repairing the country’s fraught relationship with indigenous peoples. “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission,” noted the Liberal party’s 2015 platform.

The pipeline expansion has put this sentiment to the test, with Vancouver and nearby Burnaby launching court actions against the project along with several First Nations communities. After taking power in 2017, the provincial government of British Columbia – a left-leaning coalition which relies on support from the Green Party – vowed to use all the tools available to them to halt the project.

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Recent weeks have seen indigenous-led protests against the project heat up, sending thousands into the streets. About 200 people have been arrested for blocking the entrance of facility belonging to Trans Mountain, including two federal MPs.

On Sunday, Trudeau interrupted a foreign trip to meet the premiers of Alberta and British Columbia, reiterating his government’s determination to see the project completed. “The Trans Mountain expansion is a vital strategic interest to Canada − it will be built,” he told reporters after the meeting.

The prime minister said the project – which would nearly triple the flow of Alberta’s bitumen to the west coast – is in the national interest. “It means good jobs in Alberta, they’ve suffered tough times. It means good jobs in BC, thousands of them as the pipeline is built.”

The uncertainty looming over trade relations between Canada and the US as well as waning investor confidence in Canada’s ability to complete big projects reinforce why this expansion needs to go forward, he added.

Trudeau said his government would launch formal financial discussions with Kinder Morgan and potentially use taxpayer dollars to ensure the project goes forward. As interprovincial pipelines are the federal government’s jurisdiction, his government may also pursue legislation to assert Ottawa’s authority over the project, he said.

Approving the project in 2016, Trudeau said: “I’ve said many times that there isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it.”

After meeting Trudeau on Sunday, John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, showed no sign that his government would drop its opposition to the project. “My obligation is to the people of BC, and I will defend that until I am no longer premier,” he said.

Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, said she would move to introduce legislation on Monday that would allow her province to scale back its oil and gas exports to British Columbia, potentially driving up prices in the province.