On Pipeline Approvals, Liberals Resist Tory Calls To Show Cards

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OTTAWA — A half dozen Iroquois First Nations are calling the proposed Energy East pipeline a "dangerous project," less than 24 hours after the federal government announced additional reviews to bolster public confidence in the pipeline assessment process — including more consultations with indigenous communities.

It was just another sign of the acrimonious debate ahead as the Liberal government attempts to find consensus on building "sustainable" oil pipelines to an ocean port in order to export land-locked crude oil.

justin trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons. (Photo: CP)

That debate consumed the House of Commons on Thursday, as the Conservative opposition presented a motion effectively calling for a vote of confidence and support in TransCanada's proposed $15.7-billion pipeline to carry Alberta and Saskatchewan bitumen to New Brunswick refineries and ports.

On Wednesday, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced that current project assessments, including Energy East and the Trans Mountain line in B.C., would have to be assessed on the upstream greenhouse gases emitted in the production of the oil they propose to carry. The Liberal government also said it would appoint a ministerial representative to consult indigenous communities, while extending the time frame for a decision on each of the two major pipelines.

Indigenous rights to be respected: McKenna

"We need to take into account the views and concerns of Canadians, respect the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and support our natural resources sector," McKenna said in introducing the plan.

Enter the Iroquois Caucus.

The group, representing Ontario and western Quebec leaders from Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Kanesatake, Oneida Nation of the Thames, Six Nations of the Grand River, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Wahta Mohawks, said Thursday they expect to be consulted by the Crown while expressing their unanimous opposition to Energy East.

"Notwithstanding the economic benefits, we have serious concerns with respect to the devastating effects this project can have on our lands and waters, our way of life and our cultures," said the news release.

Conservatives, stung by Liberal accusations they failed to get a pipeline to tidewater in spite of — or perhaps due to — their over-exuberant support of the oil and gas sector while in government, responded to the new project review plan by attempting to flush out Liberal intentions on pipelines.

A voteable Conservative motion was debated in the Commons throughout the day Thursday, with the official Opposition demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly back the Energy East proposal.

catherine mckenna
Natural Resources Minister James Carr (left) and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna prepare to hold a joint news conference in Ottawa. (Photo: CP)

Former Tory cabinet minister Erin O'Toole said Trudeau needs to show leadership rather than acceding to the regional war of words between lower levels of government.

"He's not a traffic cop between mayors," O'Toole said during the day-long debate.

Trudeau told the House the Liberal majority would vote against the Conservative motion, which he said simply reflected the "failed policies" of the last decade.

New Democrats also opposed the motion.

NDP critic Nathan Cullen, during the debate, said the Conservatives are pre-judging a project whose 27-month assessment by the National Energy Board hasn't even begun. 

"They want to cast judgment on Energy East before it's even hit the hearing stage," said Cullen.

There's a lot of that going around.

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