Understanding the Supreme Court's Decision to Turn Down the Trans Mountain Pipeline Appeal
Updated: May 31
In order to properly understand the context of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, we need to go back to May 2019 when a limit on heavy oil flow was proposed by the provincial government of British Columbia (1). The British Columbia Court of Appeal unanimously decided that this proposal crossed over into the federal jurisdiction, since the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion transverses multiple provinces (1). The proposal would have been problematic if passed, as interprovincial projects are a sole power dictated to the Federal Government in section 92 of the Constitution (2). Secondly, passing of the proposal would have resulted in difficulty for the National Energy Board to work on current and future projects, also contributing to why this request was denied (1). If you’re interested in reading more about the distribution of powers of each level of government, you can click here to read a report from the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
There is a hierarchy to our judiciary system, in which a case starts at the lowest municipal court, with the ability to appeal to higher provincial and federal courts as deemed necessary. In this case, since the provincial government of British Columbia was fighting the pipeline, the case started out in provincial court and was appealed upwards to the federal Supreme Court (2). The Supreme Court came to a unanimous conclusion to dismiss B.C.’s appeal of a lower court, allowing for the B.C. Court of Appeal decision to stand. This decision ended B.C.’s legal fight against the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline (2).
The plan for the $7.4 billion Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion will increase the barrels of oil moved per day from 300,000 to approximately 890,000 (4). There has been a polarized reaction amongst the provinces to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. Following the Supreme Court’s refusal to try the case, B.C. Premier John Horgan vowed to use his provincial power to protect any ecosystems or communities that would be at risk due to completion and use of the pipeline (2). Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, was very pleased with the decision made by the Supreme Court, declaring it as a success for Alberta, as the project is supposed to help reduce oil prices, as well as grant access to Alberta oil for international markets (2). This move is expected to increase oil revenue by $3.7 billion per year (4).
In terms of the completion of the pipeline, since the project has already undergone assessments by both the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and has twice been approved by the Federal Government, it is expected for the project to move forward and construction to begin (2).