Ottawa extends deadline for Trans Mountain decision to June 18

WATCH ABOVE: The National Energy Board's original 90-day deadline for the pipeline, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to build, was set for May 22nd. Mercedes Stephenson explains what's behind yet another delay.

The federal government says it is delaying its decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project until June 18 in order to wrap up consultations with Indigenous groups.

The deadline is being pushed back by almost a month on the recommendation of both Indigenous communities and former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who is advising the government on the consultation process, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Thursday.

“The government has consistently said that a decision would only be made on the project once we are satisfied that the duty to consult has been met,” Sohi said in a statement.

READ MORE: Quebec not impressed with Alberta Premier-designate Jason Kenney’s pipeline plea

The proposal to twin the existing Trans Mountain pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C., was first approved by cabinet in 2016. The Federal Court of Appeal rescinded that decision last August, however, declaring that neither the environmental review nor the Indigenous consultations had been properly completed.

After taking into consideration the impact of more oil tankers on marine life off the coast of B.C., the National Energy Board said on Feb. 22 that it still believed the project was in the public interest and should go ahead, subject to 156 conditions and 16 new non-binding recommendations for Ottawa.

LISTEN: Minister Amarjeet Sohi joins The Morning News to discuss why the deadline for the Trans Mountain expansion decision was extended

That decision gave cabinet 90 days to make its call, setting May 22 as the expected deadline. But even as that report was being finalized, officials in Sohi’s office were signalling that more time would likely be required.

It was not lost on some critics that Thursday’s decision came two days after an Alberta election in which the lack of new pipelines played a significant role.

Watch below: Alberta Premier-designate Jason Kenney weighs in on Trans Mountain decision being delayed

Alberta Premier-designate Jason Kenney was asked about the pipeline news on Thursday. He said the prime minister advised him of the deadline extension when they spoke Wednesday morning.

“I agreed with the prime minister that they need to make sure they cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’… We certainly don’t want them to have to go back to the drawing board on this for the third time,” Kenney said.

“We will continue to communicate the urgency of this to all Canadians.”

WATCH: Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi joins Global News Morning Calgary to discuss Ottawa’s decision to extend the deadline for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to June 18.

Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs also pointed out on Twitter the Liberals were announcing the deadline extension one month before the deadline and on the last day before the four-day Easter long weekend.

“Clearly never was a plan to decide in time for summer construction,” she said.

Sohi said consultation teams are continuing to meet with Indigenous communities potentially impacted by the project.

“This process includes engaging in meaningful, two-way dialogue — to discuss and understand priorities of the groups our teams meet and to offer responsive accommodations, where appropriate,” he said.

He said the government remains committed to doing “things differently” on the project.

WATCH: The federal Liberals had hoped to wrap up Trans Mountain consultations with Indigenous communities by May 23 but have pushed that date back to June 18. Tom Vernon reports.

The Liberals are under intense pressure to make progress on Trans Mountain, the only pipeline project the government has approved. Ottawa spent $4.5 billion to buy the existing pipeline last year in a bid to overcome political hurdles holding up construction.

READ MORE: Feds grossed $70M in first few months of Trans Mountain pipeline ownership

Kinder Morgan investors got skittish in the wake of a B.C. court challenge, which aims to determine whether the province can prevent more diluted bitumen from flowing through B.C. given the limited understanding of how the product behaves when spilled in water.

The company halted work last spring, and warned it would cancel the project altogether unless Ottawa could convince it that the delays would not continue. Ottawa bought the pipeline instead, planning to expand it and sell it back to the private sector or Indigenous-owned companies once complete.

Kenney, whose United Conservative Party defeated the Rachel Notley’s NDP government Tuesday, has threatened to turn off the oil taps to B.C. unless opposition to the pipeline is removed. He also says he plans to hold a referendum in Alberta on equalization if there are no new pipelines built by 2021.

WATCH (April 8, 2019): Both NDP leader Rachel Notley and UCP leader Jason Kenney proclaimed they are the best leaders to get the Trans Mountain pipeline past the finish line. Tom Vernon reports.

READ MORE: Kenney’s threat to ‘turn off the taps’ to B.C. ‘doesn’t make any business sense:’ experts

The National Energy Board told Sohi a few weeks ago that existing pipeline capacity is both full and running at near-maximum efficiency, meaning the only way for Alberta oil producers to get more product to market is to build new pipelines. Additional rail capacity is possible but not the most efficient way to move oil, the NEB said.

Sohi also thanked Premier-designate Kenney and Notley on Thursday for their leadership.

WATCH: NDP Leader Rachel Notley disappointed in delay on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion decision

“It’s very important that we maintain support for the pipeline from all Canadians,” Notley said after meeting with Kenney. She said her party, as Alberta’s official opposition, is experienced and is already getting to work.

She said the UCP should be given time to give its pipeline strategy — different from the NDP’s approach — a chance.

However, Notley pointed out it’s been a couple of days since Kenney was elected and Quebec and B.C. have doubled down on their messages and the pipeline has been pushed back.

“It’s not as simple as having a press conference and expressing people’s outrage over and over,” Notley, now the leader of the official opposition, said. “This is a complicated issue.

“It requires diplomacy… strategic pressure in a thoughtful way.”

Watch below (April 10): A lawyer and researcher with the School of Public Policy joins Global News Morning Calgary to discuss the legal and constitutional realities facing the next Alberta premier on pipelines and energy issues.

— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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