MP Julian Says Cancel TMX, Singh Says Not So Fast

Alex Ballingall
Peter Julian and Jagmeet Singh

[Editor: Note that the expansion is not slated to supply local refineries.]

Nov. 24, 2021

OTTAWA—NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is not pushing to cancel the government-owned Trans Mountain expansion, even though a veteran MP in his caucus is calling for an immediate halt to construction of the controversial oil pipeline project.

Peter Julian, the NDP’s House Leader and longtime MP whose riding in British Columbia is near where the oil pipeline terminates on the Burrard Inlet, gave notice to the House of Commons this week that he intends to table a motion that calls on the government to “immediately stop” construction of the Trans Mountain expansion.

In an interview with the Star on Wednesday evening, Julian said the motion — which he has tabled in previous sessions of parliament — is a reflection of his personal views and meant to express the position of many of his constituents who don’t want to see the expansion project completed.

He stressed that he still supports the “national” position on the project expressed by Singh, who opposes the pipeline expansion in principle but is not calling for construction to stop.

“It’s the difference between being part of the caucus and tabling something as a private member,” Julian said. “A private member can express their views and express the views of their constituents, and it’s what I’ve done here.”

The issue touches a sensitive position for Singh’s NDP, which seeks to champion workers in all sectors of the economy while also pushing for stronger action on climate change.

When the Liberal government nationalized the project for $4.4 billion in 2018, in order to push through the proposed expansion project, Singh routinely accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of failing to live up to his promised climate action. But the pipeline also sparked a feud between New Democrat governments in B.C. and Alberta, and Singh’s opposition to the expansion soured relations with Rachel Notley when she was the NDP premier of Alberta.

Before the 2019 election, for instance, Notley told the Star that the federal New Democrats “need to go back to the drawing board and think about working people.”

During the federal election this year, Singh clarified his position on the expansion project, which is already under construction and slated for completion by the end of 2022. He said he opposed the project and the public dollars going to it, but that he wouldn’t necessarily cancel it. Instead, he said he would analyze the project if he won power before deciding whether to scrap it.

Asked Wednesday about Julian’s motion, Singh said his position has not changed: he’s not calling for the project to be cancelled.

“I’ve always been opposed to the project, and I’ve said once in government we would assess and make the decision about what to do with the asset,” he said.

Julian’s motion goes further. Citing reports from the Canada Energy Regulator and other bodies, it questions whether the extra capacity of the expansion is needed to meet future demand for oil from Alberta. It also states the project “undermines” Canada’s commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions and that the billions of dollars spent on the project, estimated to cost at least $12.7 billion, should instead go to funding a “Green New Deal for Canada” — a reference to a broad program to transition to a cleaner economy while supporting workers and creating high-wage jobs.

Environmentalists have long opposed the pipeline project, which would almost triple the amount of crude oil the Trans Mountain system can carry from Alberta to the B.C. coast. Several First Nations communities along the route object to its construction, while climate campaigners argue it would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions at a crucial time when leading scientists say rapid cuts to pollution that cause climate change are needed to limit the damage of a warming world.

Yet the pipeline remains a key source of fuel for the populous Vancouver area of B.C., a fact underscored by how recent devastating flooding in the province forced the line to shut down. On Monday, the Parkland oil refinery in Burnaby, B.C. said it would halt operations due to a lack of supply. The pause comes amid concerns of gas shortages as the B.C. government calls on motorists to limit themselves to 30 litres of fuel per visit at gas stations in the province.