Federal minister cautions Alberta against withdrawing from national climate plan

Alberta’s decision to pull out of the national climate-change plan to protest a federal court ruling that quashed the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will only serve to further endanger the project’s regulatory future, says the federal resources minister.

Edmonton MP Amarjeet Sohi said the courts have made it clear — an effective climate strategy is critical for the approval of major natural resources projects under federal jurisdiction.

Alberta’s withdrawal from the national climate change strategy may hurt the pipeline in the long run, he said.  

“In order to build a large project such as a pipeline, you need to have a very effective climate action plan and you need to be mindful of your obligations to consult Indigenous peoples,” Sohi said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“Without those, you will not get a pipeline built.” 

We’re not prepared to go any further on this until the federal government figures out how to get this ridiculousness fixed.– Rachel Notley, Alberta premier

Premier Rachel Notley has called on Ottawa to immediately take Thursday’s Federal Court of Appeal ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call an emergency session of Parliament to fix the process so the pipeline can be built.

The province will remain outside the federal climate plan until that happens, Notley said.

The Alberta premier made the stunning announcement in a Thursday evening news conference, hours after the Court of Appeal effectively suspended the contentious Trans Mountain expansion.

The appellate court cited lack of consultation with Indigenous nations and that the regulator, the National Energy Board, failed to address the impact on marine traffic.

Notley said she and Albertans are angry the province has been let down after doing everything right.

She said her NDP government remains committed to environmental stewardship, but won’t sign on to a national strategy if it isn’t able to get the pipeline built and get a “fair value for our resources.”

She stood her ground while speaking Friday on Edmonton AM.

“We have said very clearly that responsible action on climate change must be paired with the kind of economic growth that makes sure that working people are able to prosper … you can’t do one without the other,” Notley said.

“We’re not prepared to go any further on this until the federal government figures out how to get this ridiculousness fixed.” 

Notley said it’s become “virtually impossible” for Alberta to build a pipeline to tidewater. 

“Our energy industry drives our national economy and it is utterly ridiculous that we can only sell it through the United States,” she said. “It’s just got to stop.”

The premier said the court decision Thursday has no impact on Alberta’s own climate change plan, or on the provincial carbon tax, but her declaration takes proposed federal carbon tax increases off the table. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley reacts to the Trans Mountain ruling in a news conference Thursday evening. 0:49

‘Fixing the broken system’ 

While Sohi said he empathizes with Notley’s “frustration,” her declaration ignores the increasing demands of the regulatory process.

The Trans Mountain proposal is the second major pipeline expansion that has been quashed by the courts, and Sohi fears federal judges won’t look kindly upon Alberta’s withdrawal from the national climate plan. 

We can’t go back to the old days of ignoring the environment.– Amarjeet  Sohi, federal resources minister

Sohi blamed the federal Conservatives, under Stephen Harper, for creating a flawed regulatory system that fails to fully account for the duty to consult and environmental risks.

“The courts have been very clear,” said Sohi. “This is the second ruling that we’ve had from the federal court where decisions have been overturned. 

“We can’t go back to the old days of ignoring the environment or ignoring the consultations with Indigenous peoples. 

“That is not how pipelines will be built in the future, and we need to make sure that we’re fixing the broken system that we inherited.” 

Sohi said the federal government is reviewing the court decision and intends to push forward with the project.

“We cannot have a situation where we continue to rely on a single customer to whom we sell 99 per cent of our oil,” he said  “As an Albertan, I feel frustrated that Alberta’s oil is landlocked.

“We are attempting to diversify our markets and yes, we need to do it the right way, but the courts have given us a path forward and we are going to follow that path forward.”

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