OTTAWA Nov 30 Despite open signs of nervousness
among legislators, Canada's ruling Liberals bet they can survive
the political damage caused by allowing a pipeline to be built
from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific coast.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday approved Kinder
Morgan Inc's plan to lay a second pipeline along the
route of its existing Trans Mountain line, setting up a conflict
with environmentalists who helped him win power last year.
The line travels from Alberta's oil sands to British
Columbia, which has become a power base for the Liberals.
Opponents predict angry provincial voters could kick out many of
the Liberal's 17 legislators in a federal election set for
This could weaken Trudeau's hold on power. He only has a
working majority of 15 in the House of Commons, and unless he
won seats elsewhere he could be reduced to a minority and forced
to rely on other parties to govern.
Liberals feel time is on their side. While Kinder Morgan
plans to start construction in September 2017, party insiders
say the company is likely to face a series of protracted court
challenges before it can dig.
This means there will be no television shots of protestors
confronting construction workers. Video of demonstrations
against a pipeline project near a Native American reservation in
North Dakota has gone viral, helping spread awareness of the
"How are the protesters going to keep this issue alive when
the next election is almost three years away and nothing is
going to happen between now and then?" said one Liberal with
direct knowledge of the file.
Two Liberal legislators from British Columbia openly spoke
out against the pipeline before Trudeau's announcement and two
other members of the caucus on Wednesday told reporters they
Veteran party members say their colleagues need to take a
"Even if an election were held tomorrow we'd lose perhaps
four seats in British Columbia. As for 2019, it looks as though
we'll lose two," said a second well-placed Liberal.
Approving the pipeline is part of Trudeau's strategy to
tackle climate change while showing enough support for energy
projects to deflect charges his center-left Liberals oppose the
oil and gas industry.
Liberals say that regardless of the potential pitfalls in
British Columbia, Trudeau had to approve Trans Mountain to
ensure support from the energy-producing province of Alberta,
which has long clamored for more pipelines.
The province is key to Trudeau's plans to introduce a
national carbon price and the province's left-leaning premier,
Rachel Notley, had made clear she would back the carbon plan if
Ottawa approved Trans Mountain.
"If she doesn't get a pipeline it's game over for a national
carbon strategy," said a third Liberal. If Notley loses the next
election, due in 2019, she will undoubtedly be replaced by a
party that rejects the idea of carbon pricing.
Alberta could end up with another pipeline if U.S.
President-elect Donald Trump fulfils a promise to allow
TransCanada Corp to build its Keystone XL line. Barack
Obama had vetoed the project in 2015.
That could make it easier for Trudeau to veto another
potentially tough project - TransCanada's proposed Energy East
pipeline from Alberta to the Atlantic coast.
Opposition to the pipeline is high in the predominantly
French-speaking province of Quebec, where the Liberals hold a
whopping 40 seats, and can ill afford to suffer losses.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)