The Liberals will bow to a federal court ruling and proceed with a review of how increased tanker traffic from the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion could impact marine ecosystems on the Pacific coast.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi made the announcement from Halifax on Friday morning and said the plan is to have the additional review completed within the next five months. However, he did not provide any updated timeline on when construction on the controversial project could begin.
“Let me assure you. This government is committed to protecting our oceans and coastlines,” he said, noting updates on the timeline of the project will come within the next few weeks when the government announces how it plans to fulfill the Federal Court’s requirement for it to properly consult with Indigenous peoples.
“That will be part of the next step that we will be announcing shortly.”
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Sohi also said the government will present to the National Energy Board copies of its efforts to protect southern resident killer whales, as well as its oceans protections legislation, which is currently before the Senate.
The government will also appoint a “special marine technical advisor” to the National Energy Board.
Sohi did not specify exactly how that appointment will work.
“The NEB will start putting together people to initiate this review and they’ll be able to answer more of the technical issues of the process, how they select the panel,” he said. “Our job is to make sure we provide necessary support to the NEB.”
That person has not yet been named.
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Shannon Stubbs, Conservative natural resources critic, said the announcement gave her no assurances about the fate of the project.
“I’m not reassured,” she told reporters from Parliament Hill. “They’ve announced literally nothing on Indigenous consultation.”
Stubbs said the government should have immediately agreed to go back to redo its consultations last month following the court ruling.
As well, she said there is still no certainty about what will actually happen to the project once the tanker traffic review is complete.
“They’ve given no clarity about what happens after that,” she said.
WATCH: Liberals have failed on concrete plan on Trans Mountain: Conservatives
Expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline will triple its capacity to carry oil from the Alberta oilsands to the B.C. coast.
As a result, tanker traffic in the harbours near Burnaby, B.C., will significantly increase.
The original review by the National Energy Board was widely criticized by environmental advocates for leaving out any consideration of increased marine shipping on coastal ecosystems, particularly the dwindling population of the southern resident killer whale.
A Federal Court of Appeal ruling at the end of August suspended the project, citing two major flaws with the approval process.
Specifically, the court said that the Liberals failed to properly consult Indigenous peoples in the most recent phase of stakeholder consultations carried out since they took office, and that the National Energy Board approval of the project under the Conservatives was fundamentally flawed by leaving out any assessment of marine shipping on the ocean ecosystem.
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The government has not yet said officially whether it plans to appeal the ruling or what it will do if the plans it puts forward are not to be insufficient.
Sohi said the issue of whether to appeal will be considered as part of the next announcement on Indigenous consultations within the coming weeks.
That appeal, if sought, would go to the Supreme Court of Canada.
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