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Jim Irving Says Ottawa Should ‘Never Give Up’ On The Energy East Pipeline

Jim Irving. Image: Mark Leger/Huddle.

SAINT JOHN – Jim Irving says the federal government should press ahead with the Energy East pipeline in light of Ottawa’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline on the West Coast for $4.5-billion.

After giving a speech at a Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce luncheon, the co-CEO of J.D Irving told reporters Tuesday that Energy East is an important project for New Brunswick and the nation as a whole.

“You should never give up [on Energy East],” said Irving. “We should have it here. I would encourage everyone in Ottawa to not let go. Stick with it.

“It’s not just about our region. It’s about Canada. You need to get the oil to market on a competitive basis. It’s absolutely essential. For this part of the country, New Brunswick and in particular Saint John, it’s absolutely very important.”

Saint John Mayor Don Darling said Ottawa should reach out to TransCanada right away.

“[I call] on the federal government to immediately re-engage in conversations with TransCanada to see if, with this new attitude and with this ‘we’re going to get this done’ approach to a pipeline, we can resurrect the Energy East pipeline on the East Coast,” said Darling to reporters Tuesday after the Saint John luncheon.

On Facebook, Saint John-Rothesay Liberal MP Wayne Long defended the government’s decision and noted many differences between the two projects.

The Trans Mountain project had been approved by the NEB, the federal government and the previous provincial Liberal government in B.C.

Long also said the majority of people in B.C. support the Trans Mountain project. The people of Quebec and parts of Ontario did not support Energy East.

Nonetheless, he said he would press his government to re-open the process.

“Given the news today I am asking my government to redouble any efforts to re-engage Trans Canada and discuss reviving Energy East,” he said. “We need to exhaust all options.”

Earlier Tuesday morning, the Trudeau government announced a deal to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline and all of Kinder Morgan Canada’s core assets.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that in return, Kinder Morgan will go ahead with its original plan to twin the pipeline from the Alberta Oil Sands to the B.C. coast this summer while the sale is finalized, which likely won’t happen until August.

Once the sale is complete, Canada will continue the construction on its own, with a view to eventually selling the whole thing down the road, once market conditions would allow it to get the best price.

The federal government intervened in the process to build the pipeline after Kinder Morgan set a May 31 deadline to settle the political dispute between B.C. and Alberta.

Ottawa has the constitutional authority to build interprovincial projects like pipelines, but B.C. Premier John Horgan has gone to court to get a judge to weigh in on whether B.C.’s jurisdiction for the environment would allow him to regulate what flows through the pipeline.

The resulting uncertainty, paired with vocal opposition from environmental groups and some Indigenous communities in B.C., prompted Kinder Morgan to halt investment until the federal government could inject some certainty into the project.

Last September, Trans Canada made a similar attempt to bring clarity to the Energy East project when it filed a letter with the National Energy Board (NEB) asking for a 30-day suspension for the proposed project.

The company said it wanted to study how the NEB’s decision to consider the Energy East’s contribution to upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions will affect “costs, schedules and viability.”

In early October, TransCanada cancelled the project when the federal government failed to reassure the company about the process to get that pipeline approved. Federal officials blamed poor market conditions for TransCanada’s decision.

Darling said the federal government created the financial uncertainty. He also said Quebec politicians lobbied hard to kill the project.

“I think there were likely some financial elements,” said Darling. “When you’re trying to get a pipeline approved and there’s no end in sight, no clarity of the regulatory process, I’m sure that was a part of it.”

“Politics was a part of it as well. When you’ve got the Mayor of Montreal and others standing up and saying they’re going to fight this pipeline until the end, that played a role.”

RELATED: Business Leaders, Mayor Blame Regulatory Changes, Delays For Killing Energy East

The Trudeau government didn’t fight for Energy East in the face of political opposition, says Darling, but it’s prepared to do in the case of Trans Mountain. He says he expects the government to make a renewed push for Energy East now that it’s taken up the cause of Trans Mountain.

“What we see playing out on the West Coast is some of the same pushback and some of the same concerns, but now the taxpayers are going to write a check for $4.5-billion. Our economy on the East Coast matters. [Energy East] was a good project,” Darling said.

“I’m looking forward to the federal government restarting conversations with the proponents so that we can get the Energy East project back up and running.”

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With files from Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press.