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Trudeau Liberals back motion in support of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Replacement pipe is stored near crude oil storage tanks at Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline terminal in Kamloops, B.C.

Chris Helgren/REUTERS

The federal Liberal government has thrown its weight behind an Opposition motion backing Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, even as political turmoil in British Columbia threatens the project's future.

The motion, introduced in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Mark Strahl, affirms that the project has social licence to proceed, is critical to the economy, is environmentally sound and should proceed as planned.

It passed Tuesday by a vote of 252-51, with the backing of the Conservatives and all Liberal MPs, except two B.C. backbenchers who have criticized the project in the past. Terry Beech and Hedy Fry both voted against the project. Neither were available to speak about their vote Tuesday.

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B.C. MP Joyce Murray, who has also publicly opposed the project, was absent for the vote.

The NDP and Green party Leader Elizabeth May opposed the motion, in line with their provincial counterparts in British Columbia who last weekend signed a co-operation agreement which included plans to jointly oppose the pipeline.

While Liberal Premier Christy Clark won the most seats in the B.C. election last month, together the NDP and Greens have one more seat than the Liberals and could topple them in a confidence vote before the end of the month.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last fall approved the project to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C. Ms. Clark came to support it in January after five conditions she placed on it had been met.

Ms. Clark's support for the pipeline likely cost her seats in the election, where the pipeline was a big issue for voters.

The pipeline falls under federal jurisdiction, but the province could at least delay its construction by withdrawing environmental approval or refusing construction permits, forcing Ottawa to go to court. In speaking to his motion June 1, Mr. Strahl said he thinks Mr. Trudeau needs to travel to B.C. to defend the pipeline in front of its skeptics.

"It is easy to give a speech about approving a pipeline in Calgary to oil executives there," Mr. Strahl said. "It is tougher to come to a skeptical audience in British Columbia and sell the merits of the pipeline. That is what we are calling on him to do. We are calling on the prime minister to come to British Columbia."

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Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr last week said the government would support Mr. Strahl's motion because the project remains a sound one with licence to proceed even if the idea of aligning with the Conservatives is "a source of discomfort."

Mr. Carr said no matter what happens with the British Columbia government, it doesn't change the facts about the project. He added his government was able to get the social licence to move forward by consulting widely, including with indigenous communities, and listening to concerns.

"While the government in B.C. may change, the facts, the science, the evidence, the environmental considerations, the economic benefits, and the jobs all remain unchanged," he said.

Kinder Morgan is in the midst of responding to all 157 conditions placed on the pipeline's construction by the National Energy Board. Some hope construction could begin as early as this fall, but the election turmoil could easily throw a wrench in that plan.

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