Harriet Prince, 76, of the Anishinaabe tribe marches with others against the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project in Burnaby, British Columbia on March 10, 2018
Ottawa (Canada) (AFP) - On the same day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left for a three-country trip to Peru, France and Britain, his office announced Thursday he would return midway to deal with a pipeline row.
Trudeau was wheels up and headed for Lima to attend the Summit of the Americas when he appeared to bow to criticism over his absence in the midst a political crisis related to the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
He will now return to Ottawa on Sunday after his trip to Peru to meet with the sparring leaders of Alberta and British Columbia who are at odds over the project.
He will then resume his travels to France on Monday before heading to Britain.
In Canada, Trudeau will meet with British Columbia Premier John Horgan, who he has accused of illegally “obstructing” the project, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, a proponent of the pipeline who has warned that the standoff risked triggering a constitutional crisis.
Feeling squeezed, US firm Kinder Morgan said Sunday it would suspend most work on the pipeline during the row that is creating undue risk for investors.
The company gave the parties until May 31 to resolve their differences or it would scrap the Can$7.4 billion ($5.9 billion US) project. Trudeau has said the pipeline is in the “national interest.”
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh urged Trudeau to cancel his trip altogether, saying: “This is a crisis which requires the prime minister.”
He was echoed by several Conservative MPs.
In 2016, Trudeau’s Liberal government approved tripling the 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) Trans Mountain pipeline’s capacity to carry 890,000 barrels of oil for shipping overseas from landlocked Alberta’s oil sands to the port of Vancouver.
But the project faced continued protests and legal challenges from environmental and indigenous groups as well as municipalities concerned about the risk of oil spills along Canada’s pristine Pacific coast impacting fisheries and tourism.
British Columbia’s new social democratic government joined the fight against the project late last year when it looked all but lost.
About 97 percent of Canada’s oil is currently sold to the United States at a discount. The industry and the federal government say new oil conduits to tidewater are needed in order to diversify exports and get better energy prices.