04/17/2018 12:31 EDT | Updated 04/17/2018 12:31 EDT

'To Tidewater': The 2 Key Words To Listen For As Liberals, Tories Fight Over Pipelines

Conservatives are defending their record while criticizing the current government.

Jonathan Hayward/CP
A freighter is seen in the background as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tours a tugboat in Vancouver Harbour, on Dec. 20, 2016.

As federal Liberals and Conservatives defend their records on pipelines in light of delays with Kinder Morgan's contentious Trans Mountain project, there are two key words to keep in mind.

"To tidewater."

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his predecessor Stephen Harper signed off on controversial pipeline projects to transport oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast.

The $7.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion would triple the amount of oil flowing from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., increasing shipments to Asian markets. The B.C. government is concerned a spike in tanker traffic could result in a spill that would threaten ocean waters.

Trudeau says his 2016 approval of the project is part of a broader plan to balance the environment and economy, which notably includes a national price on carbon. The government killed the Northern Gateway pipeline project, which was approved by Conservatives and would have sent bitumen from Alberta to the coastal community of Kitimat, B.C.

Now facing pressure from Tories over the Kinder Morgan impasse, Trudeau and his ministers are fond of saying Conservatives couldn't get big pipeline projects built for a decade. And while Liberals are typically diligent to note Tories couldn't get pipelines built "to tidewater," they have at times implied the Opposition couldn't get anything completed while in power.

Two new pipelines were built to the U.S. under Harper: TransCanada's Keystone pipeline to Nebraska (not to be confused with Keystone XL), and Enbridge's Alberta Clipper to Wisconsin. Both were completed in 2010 but neither were, well, to tidewater.

Tory MPs also credit expansions of two existing pipelines as new projects approved under Harper, allowing Conservatives to boast they got four pipelines built.

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After question period Monday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer rose on a point of order to accuse Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr of misleading the House of Commons by "indicating that the previous Conservative government was not able to complete any pipelines."

Scheer tried in vain to table the list of "four major pipelines" built under the last Tory government and approval of the Northern Gateway "pipeline to tidewater."

Carr had charged that the legacy of the Harper Conservative government was "not one kilometre of pipeline built to tidewater."

Years of pipeline finger pointing

Former Harper minister Jason Kenney, now leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party, took to Twitter earlier this month with a graphic defending the last government's record.

"In Fort McMurray, Justin Trudeau repeating myth that Harper Govt didn't get pipelines built," Kenney wrote. "Demonstrably false."

Speaking to reporters in oilsands country earlier that day, Trudeau said Tory MPs spent 10 years talking up Alberta's interest but were "unable to get much done concretely" for the province.

"We've actually approved a pipeline that for the very first time is going to get significant amounts of our oil resources to new markets," Trudeau said of the Kinder Morgan project.

Trudeau's remarks moments later, however, might have left the impression Tories consistently struck out with pipelines.

"For 10 years, Stephen Harper's Conservatives talked up the oilsands but couldn't get it done, weren't able get the pipelines to markets approved because Canadians didn't trust them to grow the economy and protect the environment," the prime minister said.

Tories forced an emergency debate on the Trans Mountain Monday night in which many MPs spoke about the need to get resources "to tidewater," while New Democrats highlighted concerns about environmental impact, risks, and Indigenous rights.

At one point, Alberta Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault pressed B.C. Tory MP Todd Doherty about the true record of the Harper government.

"Beyond the bluff and bluster, I have one question for the honourable member. How many pipelines to tidewater did your government get built? Not approved," he said. "How many pipelines to tidewater did the last Conservative government get built?"

"The same number as the Liberals," someone shouted from the Tory benches.

Doherty shot back, calling the outburst a "typical Liberal" move to deflect and point fingers.

"The truth is that we approved four pipelines, and as soon as this group came in, they vetoed one that would have gotten the pipeline to tidewater," Doherty said, referencing Northern Gateway.

"Well, I guess the same could be asked of the Liberals. How many have they gotten to tidewater? Because right now, it's zero."

With files from The Canadian Press