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Trans Mountain pipeline’s soaring cost provides more proof of government failure


4 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Julio Mejía and Elmira Aliakbari

To recap, since the Trudeau government purchased the project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018, the cost of the Trans Mountain expansion has ballooned (in nominal terms) to $34 billion.

According to the latest calculations, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which the Trudeau government purchased from Kinder Morgan in 2018, will cost $3.1 billion more than the $30.9 billion projected last May, bringing the total cost to about $34 billion—more than six times the original estimate.

This is yet another setback for a project facing rising costs and delays. To understand how we arrived at this point, let’s trace the project’s history.

In 2013, Kinder Morgan applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) to essentially twin the existing pipeline built in 1953, which runs for 1,150 kilometres between Strathcona County, Alberta and Burnaby, British Columbia, with the goal to have oil flow through the expansion by December 2019.

In 2016, after three years of deliberations, the NEB approved the pipeline, subject to 157 conditions. By that time, according to Kinder Morgan, costs had risen by $2 billion, bringing the total cost to $7.4 billion.

And yet, despite Kinder Morgan following the legal and regulatory process to get the necessary approvals, the B.C. NDP and Green Party vowed to “immediately employ every tool available” to stop the project. At the same time, the Trudeau government was planning regulations that would increase the cost and uncertainty of infrastructure projects across the country.

Faced with mounting uncertainty and potential setbacks, Kinder Morgan planned to withdraw from the project in 2018. In response, the Trudeau government intervened, nationalizing the project by purchasing it from Kinder Morgan with taxpayer dollars for $4.5 billion. Once under government control, costs skyrocketed to $12.6 billion by 2020 and $21.4 billion by 2022 reportedly due to project safety requirements, financing costs, permitting costs, and crucially, more agreements with Indigenous communities. One year later, in 2023, the Trudeau government said the cost has risen to $30.9 billion.

To recap, since the Trudeau government purchased the project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018, the cost of the Trans Mountain expansion has ballooned (in nominal terms) to $34 billion.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

When government attempts to build infrastructure projects, it often incurs cost overruns and delays due to a lack of incentives to build in an efficient and resourceful way. According to a study by Bent Flyvbjerg, an expert in this field, a staggering 90 per cent of 258 public transportation projects (in 20 countries) exceeded their budgets. The reason behind this phenomenon is clear—unlike private enterprises, government officials can shift cost overruns onto the public without bearing any personal financial consequences.

And the Trudeau government continues to make a bad situation even worse by introducing uncertainty and erecting barriers to private-sector investment in vital infrastructure projects including pipelines. Federal Bill C-69, for instance, overhauled the entire environmental assessment process and imposed complex and subjective review requirements on major energy projects, casting doubt on the viability of future endeavours.

What’s the solution to this mess?

Clearly, if policymakers want to help develop Canada’s natural resource potential—and the jobs, economic opportunity and government revenue that comes with it—they must enact regulatory reform and incentivize private investment. Rather than assuming the role of construction companies, governments should create an environment conducive to private-sector participation, thereby mitigating risk to taxpayers.

By implementing reasonable and competitive regulations that enhance investment incentives, policymakers—including in the Trudeau government—can encourage the private sector to build large-scale infrastructure projects that benefit the Canadian economy.

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Alberta gets credit boost because of budget discipline

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News release from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Author: Kris Sim

“bringing net adjusted debt to an estimated CAD 57.5 billion in fiscal 2024 (ended on March 31) from CAD 74.6 billion in fiscal 2022”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is applauding the Alberta government for its fiscal discipline which earned the province a boost in its credit rating.

“Alberta is one of the only provinces in Canada with a balanced budget, and it shows with this credit upgrade,” said Kris Sims, CTF Alberta Director. “Paying down the debt, restraining spending and saving for the future were very good moves by this government.”

In its most recent budget, Alberta reported a $367-million surplus. That stands in contrast to neighbouring Saskatchewan’s $273-million deficit and British Columbia’s record-breaking $7.9-billion deficit.

The rating agency, Fitch, upgraded Alberta’s credit from AA- to AA this week, highlighting its debt repayment as a key reason for the improvement.

“Alberta used its recent economic rebound to accelerate fiscal improvements and lower its debt, bringing net adjusted debt to an estimated CAD 57.5 billion in fiscal 2024 (ended on March 31) from CAD 74.6 billion in fiscal 2022,” the Fitch report reads.

The agency also cited Alberta’s spending restraint as a reason for the positive outlook.

“The rapid decline in debt and adherence to spending restraint in recent budgets have been complement with last year’s introduction of a fiscal framework requiring balanced budgets, annual contingencies and using surpluses for debt repayment, savings or one-time investment, is likely to bolster future resilience,” the Fitch report reads.

Interest charges on the province’s debt are estimated to cost taxpayers $3.3 billion this year.

“Credit ratings matter because Albertans pay billions of dollars on interest payments on the debt every year, better credit ratings make it less expensive to pay for that debt, and the less money we waste to pay debt interest charges the better,” said Sims.


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Internet bills should itemize Justin Trudeau’s new streaming tax

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From the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Author: Jay Goldberg

If streaming services want to fight back against the Trudeau government’s new streaming tax, which will cost them five per cent of their revenue each and every year, they need to be honest with customers and put the tax right on the bill so subscribers see it and understand how much it’s costing them.

The truth is this is a tax. It will cost Canadians money. And everyone knows it, including the prime minister. Maybe not the prime minister of 2024 but certainly the prime minister of 2018, when, in response to NDP pressure to tax streaming services, Justin Trudeau sensibly refused, saying: “The NDP is claiming that Netflix and other web giants are the ones who will pay these new taxes. The reality is that taxpayers will be the ones to pay those taxes.”

Well, that was then and this is now. Trudeau’s 2018 logic has been thrown out the window. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced last week it is “requiring online streaming services to contribute five per cent of their revenues to support the Canadian broadcasting system.” That means streaming services like Apple Music, Netflix, Spotify, YouTube and Disney+ will be hit with a new tax. And, as Trudeau pointed out in 2018, Canadians will be the ones paying the bill.

The government’s own analysis says the new measure will cost Canadians $200 million per year. When businesses are forced to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars to the government, they can’t just eat the cost. As Trudeau himself said, this streaming tax will be passed onto consumers. The industry agrees. Canadians should be “deeply concerned” with the government’s decision to “impose a discriminatory tax,” said Digital Media Association President and CEO Graham Davies, adding the move will only worsen the “affordability crisis.”

Translation: prepare for higher prices.

The streaming services targeted by these new measures shouldn’t take them lying down. They shouldn’t cooperate with the government’s plan to hide the new tax. Netflix, Spotify, Apple, Disney, YouTube and all the rest need to be honest with their customers about why prices are going up: the Liberals’ streaming tax.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre recently wrote an op-ed in this paper telling corporations not to rely on lobbying behind the scenes to influence policy. If businesses want policies to change, they need to convince voters so voters will in turn convince politicians. Canadians have to understand why it’s going to cost them more to watch movies and listen to music. They are fed up with tax hikes. But only if they know what’s happening can they make politicians change course. That’s the right way to stop the streaming tax.

In case it’s not already obvious, simply sitting back and waiting for the next election isn’t good enough. “Obviously, my future government will do exactly the opposite of Trudeau on almost every issue,” wrote Poilievre in his NP op-ed. “But that does not mean that businesses will get their way. In fact, they will get nothing from me unless they convince the people first.”

That’s precisely why these streaming services, from Apple and Google to Spotify and YouTube, need to be honest with their customers about the streaming tax. They should add a separate item on every subscriber’s bill showing exactly how much Trudeau’s streaming tax is costing. They should direct angry calls to MP offices instead of customer service lines.

When everything feels unaffordable, a night in with a movie or a walk with a favourite album shouldn’t get hit with yet another tax hike.

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