Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance, walks on stage before delivering a speech at the federal Liberal national convention in Halifax on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Morneau will provide an update Wednesday on the status of his talks with Kinder Morgan to expedite the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but he is not expected to announce a deal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

UPDATED: Horgan says B.C. defending its interests in Trans Mountain pipeline

Canadian finance minister’s update comes the same day Kinder Morgan shareholders plan to meet

If Kinder Morgan wants to abandon plans to build the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, there are plenty of other investors out there willing to take up the cause — and they will have the backing of the federal Liberal government, Finance Minister Bill Morneau says.

The government is willing to “provide indemnity” to any investors, be they the project’s original architects or otherwise, to ensure the controversial Alberta-B.C.. project is able to proceed, Morneau told a news conference Wednesday.

The announcement, coming on the very day when the company’s Calgary-based Canadian operation is scheduled to hold its annual meeting, bore the hallmarks of an effort to ratchet up the pressure in advance of Kinder Morgan’s May 31 deadline.

Amid mounting opposition from the B.C. government, environmental groups and protesters, not to mention skittish investors, the company last month halted all non-essential spending on its $7.4-billion plan to double an existing pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C.

“We are willing to indemnify the Trans Mountain expansion against unnecessary delays that are politically motivated,” Morneau said — a reference to B.C. Premier John Horgan’s ongoing refusal to allow the project to proceed, despite federal jurisdiction.

“If Kinder Morgan is not interested in building the project — we think plenty of investors would be interested in taking on this project, especially knowing that the federal government believes it is in the best interest of Canadians and is willing to indemnity to make sure it gets built.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Premier Rachel Notley said she’s optimistic the pipeline will still be built on time, re-announcing Bill 12, which could mean Alberta restricts B.C.’s access to oil.

But she wouldn’t specify a timeline or confirm whether Alberta will actually follow through with turning off the taps.

In a news release, Premier John Horgan defended the use of B.C.’s permits.

“The federal finance minister is trying to use our government as an excuse, as the federal government puts taxpayer money on the line to backstop risks to private investors, while completely ignoring the risks to B.C.,” he said.

Morneau said investors need certainty in order to back a project that the government has repeatedly insisted is in the national interest, but steadfastly refused to say what sort of dollar figures are currently on the table.

Morneau did not directly answer when he was asked how other investors or companies could conceivably take over a project to expand an existing pipeline that already has an owner.

“This pipeline that Kinder Morgan currently has, the Trans Mountain pipeline, has been there since 1953, so we see that the twinning of that pipeline is one of the most effective ways to get our resources to market responsibly,” he said.

“We see a path to an outcome that will assure that we can get the advantage that we’re seeking; that’s why those discussions are ongoing. We do know that in order to make sure that we have that path, we need to deal with the extraordinary risks that have been presented by Premier Horgan.”

Steve Kean, Kinder Morgan Canada’s chairman and CEO, acknowledged Morneau’s comments Wednesday as he reiterated the company’s position.

Related: Burnaby asks Supreme Court of Canada to rule in Kinder Morgan case

Related: Indigenous leaders pitch sustainability to Kinder Morgan shareholders

“We remain steadfast in our previously stated principles: clarity on the path forward, particularly with respect to the ability to construct through British Columbia, and ensuring adequate protection of our KML shareholders,” Kean said.

“While discussions are ongoing, we are not yet in alignment and will not negotiate in public.”

Morneau’s talks with Kinder Morgan had their genesis a month ago, when Trudeau promised to deploy both financial and legislative tools to ensure the disputed expansion is able to proceed.

During a remarkable eight-hour stopover in the national capital, an unscheduled break from a busy overseas travel itinerary, Trudeau convened a summit in Ottawa with B.C.’s John Horgan, who has staked his government’s survival on opposing the pipeline, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, whose province’s economic health depends on it.

Trudeau instructed Morneau to sit down with Kinder Morgan to find a financial solution that would soothe their investors. He also promised legislation that would reaffirm Ottawa’s authority to press ahead with a development deemed to be in Canada’s national interest.

The Liberal government position is that it approved the project in 2016 after a rejigged environmental assessment and Indigenous consultation process, and in concert with the its climate change and oceans protection plan. Approval came in consultation with the previous B.C. Liberal government, which gave its consent to the project after its own conditions were met.

Horgan’s election last year changed that. His minority government exists at the pleasure of the Green party, and on condition of his continued opposition to the project.

Greenpeace Canada wasted little time interpreting Wednesday’s development as a sign the project is doomed.

“It seems like not even Kinder Morgan wants to move forward with this destructive project,” the group’s climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema said in a statement. “The risks facing this project go far beyond the B.C. government, and Kinder Morgan knows it.

“Those risks include legal challenges from First Nations, environmental groups and municipal governments, potential legislation in the U.S., along with growing on-the-ground opposition from land and water protectors willing to face arrest to stop this project — from Vancouver to Seattle to Quebec, and beyond.”

Related: Al Gore condemns Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, sides with Horgan

Related: Builder of Kinder Morgan reinforces concerns over project

With files from The Canadian Press

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