With the approval of Trans Mountain, the stage is set for the next election

The universe is unfolding as it should.

The widely predicted decision by the Trudeau Government to re-approve the twining of the Trans Mountain Pipeline will set up the dynamic for the upcoming federal election this fall.

That dynamic pits the pipeline approval and its likely eventual construction against ‎the environmental concerns construction will create and the broader issue of fighting climate change and global warming.

The twining of Trans Mountain will actually triple the amount of Alberta oil sands production transported across British Columbia to a terminal on the Pacific Ocean in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.

The Alberta Government and the oil industry say the pipeline is essential to its economic health; it will open markets in Asia to Canadian energy supplies that now can be shipped only to the United States and sold at a discount because the Americans are our only customer.

But environmentalist have been equally determined to stop the pipeline. They say in addition to the dangers of a pipeline rupture and oil spill, the number of oil tankers in Vancouver harbour to load on the oil and then sail through the sensitive waters around Vancouver Island en route to Asia will create a whole other level of danger.

Then there are indigenous Canadians along the route in B.C. Originally most seemed opposed to the expansion. But since the federal government bought the pipeline‎ in 2018 to keep the project alive, at least two consortia of Indigenous groups have expressed interest in buying the pipeline if it ever gets built.

In the meantime there is the federal election on October 21st. The Liberals hope there will be shovels in the ground before voters go to the polls, even though in Alberta and British Columbia ‎the chances of reaping any political benefit are slight to nil.

Originally the Trudeau government portrayed the pipeline as part of a grand bargain. Approval of energy projects that would increase greenhouse gas emissions along with provincial carbon taxes that were designed to reduce those same emissions.

But provincial governments that originally supported that approach have now been replaced by Conservative ones that are canceling schemes to reduce emissions, and fighting the federal government in court over Ottawa’s replacement tax that will be imposed in provinces that no longer have their own.

Prime Minister Trudeau is now promising that any money made from either the operation or the sale of the Trans Mountain‎ pipeline extension will be committed to low carbon technology and greenhouse gas emission reduction. It is an idea originally floated by the independent International Institute For Sustainable Development a few years ago. Trudeau hopes it will keep at least some of his greener supporters onside.

For the moment the Conservatives are in a dilemma. Ardent supporters of the pipeline and the oil industry, when the pipeline was re-approved Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was reduced to complaining that Trudeau had not been able to announce a start date for construction.

So did Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who wasted three million dollars in an advertising campaign urging the federal government to give its approval to the expansion. Kenny knew the approval was coming, but wanted to look as though he had something to do with it happening.

The fact is neither of them or anyone else would be able to provide a date certain for construction to‎ benign. There are still future court challenges and other delays that environmentalist and indigenous opponents of the pipeline can launch.

The New Democrats were already opposed to the Trans Mountain expansion, and predictably they have decried the re-approval.

Now as the election campaign gets underway,‎ the NDP will continue to express their opposition, hoping in part to hold off a newly invigorated Green Party that has been threatening to eat into their support.

And with the pipeline re-approval out of the way, the Conservatives will have to concentrate on convincing Canadians the carbon tax is a tax grab and not an environmental program.

The Liberals have removed one uncertainty by re-approving the pipeline. But will that drive potential voters into the arms of the NDP or the Greens?

And while the decision has spiked some Conservative guns, ‎it does clear the decks for a full out debate on the efficacy of the carbon tax, and whether the attack on it will resonate beyond the Conservative base.

As I wrote in a column last fall, there will be other issues at play in the upcoming election –  and at that time no one had heard of Jody Wilson-Raybauld or SNC-Lavalin.

But my conclusion then, and my conclusion now, is how the environment-energy issue plays out will be a key to determining who forms the next government.

Truly, the universe is unfolding as it should.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.