A Tumultuous Week for Justin Trudeau: The Canada Letter

A Tumultuous Week for Justin Trudeau: The Canada Letter
A Tumultuous Week for Justin Trudeau: The Canada Letter

So much for a quiet end to the lazy days of summer in Canada.

Nafta wasn’t the only source of turmoil and potential political trouble for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week.

The already overheated debate over expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to an oil tanker port in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby became even hotter on Thursday when the Federal Court of Appeal slapped down the government for not conducting sincere and meaningful consultations with Indigenous people. The court also ordered the National Energy Board to look at the environmental effects of more tankers in the waters off British Columbia’s coast.

[Read: Canadian Court Halts Expansion of Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline]

Though the project is unpopular with many Liberal supporters, the government had solidly backed the expansion of the pipeline it is soon to purchase, in part as a way to get Alberta onside with its carbon tax program. So it wasn’t surprising to see an angry Rachel Notley, Alberta’s premier, appearing on television a few hours after the news broke to announce that her province’s government was pulling out of the carbon reduction program until construction workers actually start building the pipeline expansion.

But Ms. Notley, whose political fortunes also rest on the project, wasn’t the only person with tart words for Mr. Trudeau. Many Indigenous groups, who were the main applicants in the lawsuit, called on the prime minister to kill the expansion, as did environmentalists and politicians on the left.

Some are opposed because the pipeline mainly carries oil from Alberta’s oil sands, which they regard as a particularly polluting energy source. Others, including John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, fear catastrophe if a tanker sinks or splits open off the province’s coast.

On the other side, Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, charged that Mr. Trudeau had bungled the issue.

So what’s a prime minister to do?

As part of his oft-stated position that Canada needs the economic strength of its energy industry as it deals with climate change, Mr. Trudeau announced in May that the government would buy Trans Mountain from its American owner. That company, Kinder Morgan, had earlier abandoned plans to expand the pipeline over opposition from British Columbia’s government.

Mr. Trudeau’s promise to finish the project has made the government a player in the energy industry for the first time since it created and owned Petro-Canada. And that’s led to criticism from the right, even among those who support pipelines.

Opponents of the expansion were quick to portray the Court of Appeal’s decision as a crippling blow to the expansion plans. But legal experts I spoke to, and even the ruling itself, suggest that description might be a vast overstatement.

The ruling does not give Indigenous groups an effective veto over the pipeline, nor does it require the government to negotiate with the groups. The government does, however, have to go back and do a better job of consulting with them, a process experts say could take as little as six months.

As for the marine review, the government claims to have already assessed those issues, just not through the National Energy Board. So that may be cleared up just as quickly.

Taking care of the legal questions, of course, will only get pipeline construction crews to work. Calming the political tensions won’t be as easy. For Mr. Trudeau, the biggest challenge may be stopping Trans Mountain from turning into something that ultimately satisfies no one.

A Film First (and a Giveaway)

Last year Catherine Porter, our Toronto bureau chief, wrote about an ambitious project that was then underway on British Columbia’s west coast: Canada’s first Haida-language feature film.

[Read: Reviving a Lost Language of Canada Through Film]

“Edge of the Knife” will debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next Friday, Sept. 7. The film has an entirely Haida cast, and retells the Haida story of the “wildman,” who is lost and becomes feral in the forest. In this telling, the wildman loses his mind after the death of a child, and is brought back to his community through a healing ceremony.

We have a limited number of free tickets to the screening for New York Times subscribers. We’re offering them on a first-come-first-served basis and you can find more information here.

And one last reminder that I’ll be moderating a talk on the state of American politics in the age of Donald J. Trump at our first-ever Ottawa event. Joining me from Washington at the National Gallery of Canada on Sept. 5 will be Julie Hirschfeld Davis, a White House correspondent, and political reporters Jonathan Martin and Astead Herndon. There are still a few tickets available and you can find all the details here. I’m looking forward to meeting Canada Letter readers after the event.

Screening

Our colleagues at Watching, The Times’s guide to viewing on screens of all sizes, have come up with their September list of recommendations for Netflix subscribers in Canada. This month’s films include the critically acclaimed superhero epic “Black Panther,” and “Jane,” a documentary about the chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall by Brett Morgen, featuring an original soundtrack by Philip Glass. The television series “American Vandal” also returns for its second season.

Read: The Best Movies and TV Shows New to Netflix Canada in September

Around The Times

—As the bitter reality of Labor Day looms, you may now be reviewing your iPhone photos from the summer. Are they not what you hoped? J.D. Biersdorfer, our in-house tech guru, has a guide to turning that disappointment into delight.

—David Pecker, a friend to President Trump, stepped down this week as a director of Postmedia, the publisher of a wide array of Canadian newspapers, including The National Post, The Ottawa Citizen and The Calgary Herald. Mr. Pecker’s is also chairman of the company that owns The National Enquirer. For decades, he used his position to buy up dirt on Mr. Trump to keep it hidden. This week the reporters Jim Rutenberg and Maggie Haberman revealed that Mr. Trump had worked on a plan to buy up that hoard.

—Global warming is increasing the appetite of bugs, and it’s our food that they’ll use to satisfy their growing hunger.

—Some top-tier American universities are facing lawsuits over how they handle students coping with emotional distress.

—Lego wants to switch from the petroleum-based plastics it has used for more than 50 years to make the toy bricks that have injured the bare feet of countless parents. Achieving that won’t be easy.

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