POLITICS
03/18/2019 12:44 EDT | Updated 03/18/2019 13:37 EDT

Joyce Murray, New Treasury Board President, Defends Speaking Out Against Trans Mountain Pipeline Approval

She was also asked about the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Julie Payette stands with Joyce Murray after being sworn in a Treasury Board President during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on March 18, 2019.

The newest member of federal cabinet says she was just doing her job when she spoke out against the Liberal government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Joyce Murray, a veteran MP from the B.C. riding of Vancouver Quadra, was tapped Monday to serve as Treasury Board president and minister of digital government. Murray served as parliamentary secretary to former ministers Scott Brison and Jane Philpott.

Speaking to reporters outside of Rideau Hall, Murray was asked if her position on the Trans Mountain expansion project has changed since she voiced disapproval in 2016 and if she expects the issue to affect her working relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"My job as a member of Parliament, actually, is to represent my community and I did that on the issue of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion," she said. "And it's the job of cabinet and the prime minister to make a decision that is in the interest of all Canadians and that's what they did."

Murray added that she will "never accept the idea that that pipeline is negative for climate change" because Alberta joined the pan-Canadian framework on climate change in the wake of the project's approval.

However, Alberta bailed on the federal climate plan after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the Liberal government's approval of the project last August.

"The Federal Court of Appeal pointed out two areas that needed to be worked on and those were areas that I had concern about. And the government is addressing those areas," Murray said.

The court ruled last year that the Trudeau government did not meaningfully consult Indigenous peoples on the project, which would triple oil shipments from Edmonton to the West Coast. The court also found that the National Energy Board (NEB) failed to examine impacts on marine life in B.C., including endangered southern resident killer whales, from increased tanker traffic.

Watch: NEB recommends TMX pipeline construction proceed

In response, the government tapped former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee new consultations with Indigenous communities impacted by the project. Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said last week that his department has met with more than 100 of those 117 Indigenous communities. Sohi also said that he expects the process to conclude by May.

Last month, the NEB endorsed the Trans Mountain expansion after a closer look at what it would mean to the B.C. coast. The regulator said that while an increase in tanker traffic from the project would hurt southern resident killer whales, those issues would be justified by the "considerable benefits" of the project.

The federal government ultimately purchased the pipeline project from Texas oil company Kinder Morgan last August for almost $4.4 billion, a figure that Parliament's budget watchdog later compared to paying the "sticker price" for a car.

After the government approved the Trans Mountain expansion in November 2016, Murray released a statement making clear to her constituents that she felt differently about the matter.

Murray called Trans Mountain decision 'very disappointing'

"Cabinet's decision to approve the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion project is very disappointing for me and for many in Vancouver Quadra and British Columbia," she said in the release. "I worked hard to represent their concerns in Ottawa."

Yet Murray also celebrated that the government rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline across northwestern B.C., a decision she said would protect the Great Bear rainforest.

"Ultimately we are moving Canada in the right direction with many positive environmental, climate, and clean energy initiatives and no one project will diminish my commitment to reducing national greenhouse gas emissions, protecting ecosystems and ensuring better health and well-being for all Canadians," she said.

Murray also appeared on CBC's "Power & Politics" at the time, where she noted that many citizens were concerned about "the risks of an oil spill and some of the potential impacts on the ecology" from the Trans Mountain expansion.

Watch that interview:

The principle of cabinet solidarity means that Murray is expected to publicly support the decisions made by Trudeau and his cabinet. Murray's predecessor as Treasury Board president cited that convention when she quit cabinet over its handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

"In Canada, the constitutional convention of Cabinet solidarity means, among other things, that ministers are expected to defend all Cabinet decisions," Philpott said in her resignation letter to the prime minister. "Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet minister."

Murray told reporters Monday that she is happy Philpott and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould remain part of the Liberal caucus.

No lingering questions on SNC-Lavalin

Wilson-Raybould resigned as veterans affairs minister last month and later told a House of Commons justice committee that she faced inappropriate political pressure from Trudeau and other government officials to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial. The prime minister and his former principal secretary Gerald Butts have disputed Wilson-Raybould's allegations.

Murray said Monday that she doesn't have any lingering questions on the matter and does not need to hear more from Wilson-Raybould. Opposition MPs have been pushing Liberals to bring the former attorney general back before committee.

"I think the prime minister has been clear... that there was a failure of communication and he will be leading our team in looking at how we can do better," Murray said.

Philpott tweeted her congratulations to Murray Monday morning.

Murray previously served a minister in B.C. and was elected to the House in 2008. She ran for the Liberal leadership, finishing a distant second to Trudeau in 2013.

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With files from The Canadian Press