Very public criticism has been following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his tour of Alberta and B.C., for both his environmental and oil industry positions, and he says much of that is coming as a legacy of the approach the former government took in how it pushed for pipelines.
Speaking in Fort McMurray on Friday, Trudeau noted that his government has tried to walk the fine line between being environmentally and industrially responsible, saying he is aware that unanimity is not always possible but that there is at least consensus that the environment needs protection and the economy needs to grow.
However, the lingering opposition to projects like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion, he said, is a result of the way the former Conservative government ignored the concerns of environmentalists.
“I think it’s important to remember that we are exiting a time in which, for 10 years, the government did everything it could to talk up the defence of Alberta’s interest but because they were not bringing the public along on protecting the environment, we’re unable to get much done concretely in protecting Alberta,” Trudeau said.
“Their lack of any sort of responsibility on the environment didn’t just hurt the environment, it hurt the economy.”
His comments came just 24 hours after protesters called for him to revoke the federal government’s approval of the controversial Trans Mountain expansion.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside a Liberal party fundraising dinner in Vancouver on Thursday night, banging pots and chanting, “Kinder Morgan has got to go.”
The protesters are opposed to the expansion of Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline, which was approved by the federal government in 2016 and is set to triple the amount of oil flowing to Burnaby, B.C., from Alberta.
Demonstrator Emma Pullman says the crowd wanted to show Trudeau that there is a lot of opposition to the project, and the Liberals stand to lose seats in B.C. if the pipeline is built.
The prime minister also visited Victoria on Thursday, where he said decisions aren’t made by those who shout the loudest, but on the basis of facts, science and evidence.
Trudeau said the federal government needs to build a strong economy and protect the environment at the same time.
The precariousness of his position between environmental groups, who want no more fossil fuel development, and the oil industry, which is a big driver of the Canadian economy, has been highlighted on the trip.
On Friday, Trudeau was set to tour the new Suncor Fort Hills oilsands facility, which came online earlier this year. Just two months ago, Suncor’s CEO Steve Williams complained that Canada’s regulatory regime and uncompetitive tax structure would keep his company from investing any further in this country.
Furor over the Trans Mountain pipeline has ramped up in recent weeks, with around 200 people arrested near Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby, B.C., marine terminal in the last month; Trudeau faced protesters at a town hall in Nanaimo in February and their ranks have grown in the days since.
Later on Friday, Trudeau will later meet with leaders from northern Alberta First Nations and Metis communities.