Trudeau gives caucus long leash to voice discontent on Trans Mountain approval

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made no effort during Wednesday’s caucus meeting to silence those Liberal MPs who oppose his decision to approve the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline.

The prime minister did stress the importance of staying united on the pipeline issue, but caucus sources told CBC News there was no suggestion that MPs upset with the decision should stop voicing their concerns.

Caucus insiders say the prime minister appears unlikely to face any serious internal unrest over the approval of the pipeline, which will move a mix of oil products from Edmonton to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C., for export to markets in Asia.

Two sources said even the MPs who opposed the decision seem to understand it and are prepared to live with it.

Pipeline caucus dissent0:58

In fact, Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai, who chairs the Liberal Pacific caucus, spoke during the weekly private meeting. Sources say he told the prime minister that the Pacific caucus understood the decision and would work with Trudeau to explain it to the public.

Some B.C. MPs are facing a torrent of opposition in their ridings. 

A senior official says those MPs will face no pressure from the prime minister or the cabinet to stay silent.

“We know this is a very personal issue for a lot of people,” the official said. “We want them to talk to their constituents honestly.”

GFX Map: Trans Mountain Expansion Project

Several MPs have voiced their concerns publicly, including Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray, who called the Trans Mountain decision “incredibly disappointing.”

Sources say Murray, who now has many disappointed constituents, thanked her colleagues during the caucus meeting for their personal support.

She later told reporters she still opposes the decision, but she won’t try to get it overturned.

PM reached out to MPs

The Prime Minister’s Office took steps to try to manage any possible fallout from B.C. Liberal MPs.

Last week, Trudeau attended their regional caucus meeting to hear their concerns about Trans Mountain and to give them a heads-up that a final decision was coming soon.

Yesterday, in the hours before the prime minister made the decision public, the province’s MPs were sequestered for a full briefing delivered in part by Jonathan Wilkinson, the parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, and Brittany Kerr of the PMO.

The MPs also received assurances that the government would try to ease environmental concerns by promoting the spill-response measures announced in early November as part of the National Coastal Strategy. It would also highlight the tanker ban along B.C.’s northern coast that was announced as part of the pipeline approval.

Pipeline sales pitch

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who represents Vancouver South, is already in B.C. trying to ease public concerns about the project.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley plans to visit the province early next week for a similar nerve-calming mission.

It also appears B.C. Premier Christy Clark has softened her opposition to the pipeline. She says the Trudeau government is “very close” to meeting the five conditions necessary to win her approval.

Rachel Notley in Ottawa

Premier Rachel Notley will head to B.C. early next week to try to calm concerns about Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project. (CBC)

But Clark also said the prime minister should play a personal role in selling Trans Mountain to skeptical British Columbians.

“I stressed the importance of him coming to our province to talk about why this is in the national interest,” Clark said in a statement. “I look forward to welcoming him to British Columbia very soon.”

The PMO says there are no immediate plans for Trudeau to make a pipeline sales trip to the West Coast.

A spokesperson did highlight the multiple trips Trudeau has made to the province in the past year and said the prime minister will continue to visit “on a regular basis.”

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