B.C. Premier John Horgan has conceded the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will go ahead after all.
The B.C. government has been fighting the controversial expansion through court challenges, only to see its reference case defeated in the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Personally, I’m not enamored with the prospect of seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea,” Horgan said on Wednesday.
“But the courts have determined that the project is legitimate and should proceed.”
The Horgan government has repeatedly said it will use all “the tools in our toolkit” to stop the pipeline expansion from Edmonton to Burnaby.
Horgan went on to tell reporters Wednesday he believes the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs should similarly acknowledge the courts have ruled in favour of the Coastal GasLink pipeline to Kitimat.
Construction is currently being blockaded by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en chiefs near Houston, B.C., while work continues elsewhere along the 670-kilometre pipeline route.
The province has hired former NDP MP Nathan Cullen to work as a liaison between the chiefs and the B.C. government.
Horgan has attempted to speak to the chiefs over the phone, but that was declined. They will only meet in person with Horgan, who hasn’t been able to accommodate it.
“I think that over time a dialogue will allow us to get to a place where the Wet’suwet’en will see the courts have determined the provincial government and the federal government have determined that the permits are in order,” Horgan said.
“This is a legitimate project that has massive benefits to B.C., particularly to Indigenous communities, and through dialogue we’ll find a way forward.”
Twenty elected Indigenous councils along the pipeline route have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink, including the elected band councils of the Wet’suwet’en.
Opponents say elected councils do not have authority over unceded traditional territory.
But Horgan says the Wet’suwet’en should acknowledge those agreements.
“I believe that their hereditary leadership understands that nations to the left and to the right of them, to the east and the west of them, see opportunity for prosperity and an end to systemic poverty as a result of a $40-billion private sector investment,” he said.
Horgan pointed to “business opportunities for new business startups” within Indigenous communities, a point that has been pushed by members of the First Nations LNG Alliance including Haisla chief Crystal Smith.
“I don’t expect the [Wet’suwet’en] leadership to say tomorrow that they love the pipeline,” the premier continued.
“That’s not my expectation. But there needs to be a legitimate understanding that the majority of the people in the region are going to benefit from this and that’s what dialogue will produce.”
Opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline were quick to respond to Horgan’s comments online. The project is still being challenged in court by a coalition of First Nations and there is no backing down in sight from those looking to stop it.
“Amazing how fast ‘we’re going to use all the tools in the toolbox’ turned into ‘we will do one thing with minimal political and legal risk then throw our arms up in defeat,’” Wilderness Committee campaigner Peter McCartney wrote on Twitter.
“We’ll do it without you John Horgan. It was never the BC NDP that were going to stop this project.”
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