The British Columbia Court of Appeal’s decision Friday rejecting the province’s bid to restrict increased heavy oil shipments through the province read as a clear, straightforward ruling on constitutional jurisdiction.
The unanimous ruling by a panel of five judges, however, did nothing to settle the political turmoil that continues to surround the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which was at the centre of Friday’s ruling.
Attorney General David Eby already hinted that B.C. will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada at the same time project supporters heralded it as a victory urging authorities to get on with construction.
The message sent by the unanimous decision is that Premier John Horgan needs to “stop blocking progress,” B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said in a statement.
“The NDP needs to finally start respecting our constitution and listening to the people rather than making up rules to please their activist friends and insiders,” said Wilkinson who added that it is also a warning Horgan should “end the fight he’s picked with Alberta and the rest of Canada over energy exports.
From the business community’s perspective, the ruling offered a clear statement about the shipment of energy being an issue of national interest, said Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of B.C.
That is important, D’Avignon said, because of B.C. and Alberta’s interdependence over trade in energy.
The Business Council, last week, updated its reporting on interprovincial ties, which showed that the B.C. and Alberta economies are the most interdependent of all Canadian provinces, trading some $30 billion per year in goods and services back and forth.
“B.C. has more trade exports to Alberta than China,” D’Avignon said. “And our biggest exports are energy,” with B.C. buying some $2.6 billion in oil, gas and petroleum products from Alberta and Alberta buying $2.2 billion worth of mostly B.C. natural gas on an annual basis.
From the pipeline industry’s perspective the ruling “provides critical clarity for Trans Mountain, and future interprovincial pipeline projects,” said Chris Bloomer, CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.
“This kind of clarity is now needed around Canada’s environmental and regulatory processes to ensure Canada can attract new projects and investors,” Bloomer said in a statement.
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Project critics, however, view the case as far from over with the avenue of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada potentially still open and their own opposition undimmed by the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” said Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer with the group West Coast Environmental Law, who characterized the decision as “a loss for local communities at the expense of centralized power.”
Particularly disappointing, Kung said, was that the decision was “completely silent on the question of Indigenous jurisdiction,” despite a number of First Nations having intervened in the case.
“That’s a slap in the face to Indigenous jurisdiction going forward,” he said.
On the bright side, Kung said B.C.’s court decision is a clear indication that Alberta’s threat of legislation to “turn off the taps” to B.C. is also unconstitutional.
However, Kung said he believes the province has more than the option of filing for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
For instance, Kung said B.C. could examine Friday’s decision to determine whether it can refine its ideas for regulating and restricting shipments of bitumen through the province in ways that would comply with the decision.
“Again, I think this is certainly not the end of the line,” Kung said.
And opposition to the project generally remains strong, said Sven Biggs, a campaign lead for the environmental group Stand.earth, with 26,000 people having pledged to do “whatever it takes” to stop the expansion.
“While we are disappointed by the court’s ruling, we know that Premier Horgan remains committed to protecting the B.C. coast and he will continue to use every tool in his tool box to achieve that goal,” Biggs said in a statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is due to make a decision on whether to reapprove permits for the project, and if that decision is affirmative, “another wave of protests is guaranteed to greet (Trudeau) every time he comes across the Rocky Mountains to B.C.”