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Western Canada: At long last, pipeline construction…

Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.

As the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion has dragged on, the anxieties of supporters and opponents have been wrapped up in a simple question: When will crews start putting pipe into the ground?

That is exactly what’s about to happen along the first stretch of the route near Edmonton. Officials from Crown-owned Trans Mountain, the federal and provincial governments and a local First Nation gathered yesterday to mark the occasion near the community of Acheson, Alta., in Parkland County.

Trans Mountain CEO Ian Anderson – who was the president of Kinder Morgan Canada before Ottawa bought the company’s assets – quipped that they’ve been waiting eight years for this moment. He said the start of construction along the pipeline’s right-of-way, which essentially means land the company doesn’t own, is a significant milestone.

The expansion project, which would triple the capacity of the existing pipeline between Edmonton and the Vancouver area, has been repeatedly stalled by regulatory and legal hurdles. Protests have interfered with work near the terminal in Burnaby, B.C. And construction could be held back again by any of those factors as Trans Mountain works to get the project completed by mid-2022.

Globe columnist Kelly Cryderman was at the event, which she says could calm anxieties in Alberta, where many have given up on the idea that Trans Mountain – or any pipeline – will ever get built. There are a lot of reasons, but distrust of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is at the top of the list.

The start of construction could ease tensions between Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government and Ottawa. Mr. Kenney has listed Trans Mountain among the top of his grievances and he has demanded a guarantee that the pipeline will be built. It’s not clear what such a guarantee would look like and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage didn’t directly answer a question about that yesterday.

Instead, Ms. Savage said it was a good moment for Alberta and she struck a positive tone with Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan, who she noted has been to Alberta three times since he was appointed.

Mr. O’Regan touted the progress as a sign that “we did things in the right away every step of the way,” particularly when it comes to Indigenous consultation. In fact, a court ruled last year that the federal government had not done everything right. Three Federal Court of Appeal judges unanimously threw out Ottawa’s approval of the pipeline and stalled the project for about a year after ruling there was inadequate consultation with Indigenous communities and the federal review failed to consider the impact on killer whales.

The plaintiffs behind those lawsuits have filed new legal challenges, with a case involving a number of First Nations scheduled to be heard in Vancouver later this month. Another challenge from environmentalists was dismissed, though the plaintiffs in that case are appealing.

The project’s construction will also galvanize opponents in B.C., where environmentalists and some First Nations in the Vancouver area have been fighting the project through the courts, as well as through rallies and civil disobedience. They have promised to escalate their protests as construction reaches the Lower Mainland.

All of this to say that there are still hurdles in the way of the pipeline. The federal government appears confident that it has done the work necessary to overcome the legal challenges. And Trans Mountain says it has built delays from protests into its schedule. Mr. Anderson also pointed out that the company already has an injunction against protesters in B.C. and will seek to enforce it if necessary.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West:

SENIORS CARE: Health authorities have imposed outside management at three seniors’ care homes on Vancouver Island in an extraordinary intervention, two years after Ottawa approved the sale of the facilities to a Beijing-based insurance holding company. All three care homes belong to the Retirement Concepts chain, the largest private provider of residential long-term care beds in British Columbia. The chain was sold to China’s Anbang Insurance Group in a deal approved by Ottawa in 2017 despite widespread concerns about the potential impact on a major sector of public health care.

ALBERTA UNIONS: The battle between Alberta and unions representing government employees – particularly those tied to the health-care sector – is sharply escalating, with labour leaders warning strikes could sweep the province given the shattered relationship between the two sides. The outcry came after the government late Friday warned unions that thousands of jobs may be eliminated.

RIDE HAILING: Municipalities across B.C.’s Lower Mainland are imposing separate licence fees for every ride-hailing vehicle on their roads, prompting concerns that compounding costs will deter drivers from participating and hinder consumer choice. A driver needing to travel between Burnaby and downtown Vancouver, for example, would need a $510 business licence from Burnaby and another $100 licence from Vancouver.

“If the fees and the licensing requirements for a certain area are too onerous, drivers won’t drive in that area,” said Scott Larson, the CEO of B.C. ride-hailing startup Kater. As a result, he added, ride-hailing “could be over before it starts in some of these places.”

SURREY POLICE: The commanding officer of the RCMP detachment in British Columbia’s second-largest city is warning of a “detrimental effect” on his unit’s ability to fight crime because the 2020 municipal budget won’t allow adding new officers for the second straight year. The comments from Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald come as Surrey is seeking to replace the RCMP – the largest Mountie municipal detachment in Canada – with a new municipal force.

CRAFT-BEER RULING: Alberta’s top court has dismissed the province’s appeal of a ruling that disallowed a program meant to promote local craft beers. But the Court of Appeal tossed out part of an earlier judgment that granted two out-of-province brewers more than $2-million in damages.

VANCOUVER TAXES: A proposal for a more than 9-per-cent tax increase to cover Vancouver’s 2020 budget has sparked public backlash and a promise from many councillors that they will be looking for ways to cut costs.

FISCAL STABILIZATION: Premiers are calling for the expansion of a federal emergency fund that is meant to kick in when a provincial economy takes a sharp and sudden hit. They also want the changes to be retroactive so that they help soften the blow of the recent downturn in Canada’s resource sector.

VANCOUVER HOUSING: Vancouver home sales jumped 55 per cent in November compared to a year ago when prospective home buyers were grappling with tougher mortgage rules and rising interest rates.

SCHOOL BUS CRASH: An investigation continued yesterday into a highway collision involving a school bus that sent eight people to hospital in Edmonton, including five in critical condition.

Opinion:

Globe editorial on carbon taxes: “The bottom line is that cutting emissions is going to take both smart carbon regulation and smart carbon taxes. That’s why the federal government’s plan, though carbon taxes are front and centre, includes regulation of everything from building codes to fuel standards to phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030. But it’s also why, despite its anti-carbon tax rhetoric, Alberta has imposed carbon pricing on the oil industry and is encouraging cleaner electricity production through carbon pricing. It’s not an either/or proposition.”

Gary Mason on Jason Kenney’s war: “Alberta’s public-sector workers need to look around and see how lucky they’ve been. Their counterparts in B.C. took years of 0-per-cent wage settlements when the economy in the province was not in the greatest shape. Only in recent years have they begun receiving modest increases that are tied to GDP growth.”

Konrad Yakabuski on Mark Carney’s campaign for the energy sector: “He would be doing Canada’s oil, gas and coal producers no favours by playing down the risks they and their investors face as the world moves toward a low-carbon economy. That transition may look like it’s happening too slowly to justify rewriting the rules of financial disclosure. The climate-related risks facing Canada’s oil sector are almost impossible to accurately quantify, so why even try? Perhaps because it would be even riskier not to.”

Lawrence Martin on Rona Ambrose as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.: “For starters, in an era of venomous political polarization, this would be a splendid show of bipartisanship. Never has a government chosen its U.S. ambassador from the ranks of the Official Opposition party. In the case of Ms. Ambrose, it would be the former party leader, no less.”

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