BALDREY: B.C. Premier John Horgan out of options for pipeline opposition

Well it looks like Premier John Horgan’s “tool box” for fighting the Trans Mountain pipeline has finally been emptied, not that it was filled with much to begin with.

The Supreme Court of Canada deliberated less than 30 minutes last week before unanimously kicking the B.C. NDP government’s attempt to determine what could flow through the pipeline to the curb. It was a serious beat down, as the justices came close to ridiculing the government’s arguments in court.

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The ruling was widely expected but that does not lessen the amount of egg on the government’s face. The B.C. Liberals were quick to release documents of legal billings they say show that well more than $1 million of tax dollars was spent on this Hail Mary pass by the NDP (the high court ruled after the B.C. Court of Appeal also unanimously dismissed the B.C. government’s case).

Then again, I am not so sure the premier is much broken up about this ruling. His background while working in the provincial government was in energy, which included opening up the natural gas fields in the Peace region. I have never detected much passion from him when it comes to opposing this pipeline.

As I have noted here before, the NDP’s attempts to block a pipeline were minimal at best, despite the fiery rhetoric flowing from caucus members when they were in Opposition. Once they were advised the government had no legal authority to halt the pipeline’s construction, they became more muted in their criticism.

In fact, the NDP government has never denied a single permit requested by the Trans Mountain pipeline project and will continue to grant approval at various stages as it is built.

Horgan had vowed to use “every tool in the toolbox” to fight it, but it became evident early in its term that the toolbox was a very small one, with a rather ineffective, single tool contained in it. The tool became known as the “reference case,” which unsuccessfully tried to make new constitutional law by asserting that B.C. controlled the pipeline’s contents.

The NDP’s appetite for taking on the Trans Mountain pipeline has been further diminished by its strong support for the LNG Canada project and the $6.6-billion, 670-kilometre pipeline that comes with it (although that project may run smack into what looks like an inevitable, and possibly violent, showdown between pipeline protests and the RCMP when it enforces a court injunction against the protesters).

There is one legal hurdle left for the Trans Mountain pipeline, as several First Nations are in the Federal Court of Appeal, arguing they were not adequately consulted during the last environmental assessment process. It is essentially the same argument they used successfully with the court over the original assessment process, but it is not at all clear they will be successful the second time around.

If the court rules against the First Nations, I do not expect much of a reaction from Horgan or his government. The NDP signaled long ago it has switched its priority to ensuring there are heightened safety measures associated with the increase in tanker traffic the pipeline will provide.

Look for Horgan to use his good relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to leverage more resources out of the federal government for better spill response and safety measures. He moved on from opposing the pipeline itself long ago.

As for that toolbox, it’s time to close the lid and throw it away.

******

It is with great sadness I note the recent passing of a legendary figure of the B.C. political scene. Ted Hughes, B.C.’s first-ever conflict of interest commissioner, died this past weekend in a Victoria hospital at the age of 92. A man of tremendous personal integrity, Ted’s voice was the ultimate authority on so many issues.

His investigation of then-premier Bill Vander Zalm for conflict-of-interest allegations led to Vander Zalm’s resignation (ironically, the premier had asked Hughes to conduct the investigation). Hughes was originally a senior judge from Saskatchewan, who then became the deputy attorney general of B.C. and then the conflict commissioner. He also headed investigations of child protection systems in both B.C. and Manitoba. He was, quite simply, the finest civil servant I have ever known.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca

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