TMX likely safe under Liberal minority

Justin Trudeau's Liberal government won a minority Monday night, October 21, but in order to govern, will need the support of other parties to pass budgets and other key pieces of legislation, with the NDP the most likely ally.

Trudeau's national carbon tax is safe, which means B.C. industries will not be on the uneven footing with industries in other provinces, as they would be if the Conservatives won and scrapped Trudeau's national carbon tax.

Despite his anti-pipeline rhetoric, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh does not have the political capital to kill the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, say political pundits, especially given how many seats the NDP lost. But he could help kill one B.C. resource industry – salmon farming.

Singh's party lost 15 seats in Monday's vote, falling from 39 seats to 24.

Singh has opposed the Trans Mountain pipeline's expansion. But the expansion is already approved. There is no vote pending in Parliament that would require NDP support, and even if there were, a Liberal minority government can count on the Conservatives to vote in favour of the project.

Singh would need to make the project’s cancellation a condition of support for a Liberal minority government.

But he simply doesn’t have the political leverage to make such a demand, say political pundits, and the NDP does not have the war chest it would need to bring down the government and fight another election, especially given how poorly they fared Monday night.

“There’s no way he (Singh) can make the basis of supporting the government the most important single thing, symbolically, which would be to terminate TMX,” said University of BC political scientist Richard Johnston. “He has no mandate for that. The broad swath of MPs in the House, Conservative and Liberal combined, are onside with some version of getting oil to tidewater."

On Tuesday, one of Trudeau’s top lieutenants said the prime minister will is committed to completing TMX.

“We will move forward on this project because we know it is the right thing to do,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who was re-elected to parliament Monday night, said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg Television. “We need to ensure we get access to global markets.”

A majority of Canadians support the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. An Angus Reid poll in June found 56% of Canadians agreed the Trudeau government made the right decision in approving the pipeline’s expansion.

Canadians also now own the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and Singh would have to justify putting them on the hook for $2 billion, which is how much in sunk costs that the government would need to write off, if the expansion were to be cancelled.

While the Liberals may have won more seats overall, they lost most of Western Canada. The electoral map from Manitoba to the B.C. Interior is mostly blue.

Trudeau's energy policies had a lot to do with that blue wave in Alberta and Saskatchewan -- something Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said he hopes the Trudeau government will reflect on.

"When we look at the electoral map tonight -- and it is quite stark -- from the Manitoba-Ontario border west, potentially we may have a federal government that's looking to correct that division in Canada," McMillan said. "I think there's an opportunity for the federal government to work with industries like ours, and others, to hold this country's divisions together."

"Westerners have grown tired of being seen as a problem to be dealt with rather than the source of solutions and prosperity that they see themselves to be," added Stewart Muir, executive director for Resource Works. "This election outcome is a signal that it's time to start listening to them."

As for B.C.’s LNG industry, that is more of a provincial matter, and in any case, Singh has been decidedly opaque on where he stands on LNG. The B.C. NDP government supports the LNG industry, so Singh might not want to push agendas that would alienate his provincial counterparts in B.C.

Business in Vancouver, with a file from Bloomberg