HALIFAX – Just before environmental protesters gathered outside the Liberal Party convention venue, Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna implored supporters to go out and sell the government’s environmental policies.

“We stand completely behind our decision, but we need to be understanding of where people are at, and people are going to have questions about carbon pricing, or they’re going to have questions about the expansion of, the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline,” McKenna told the room.

“So we need you to explain to them, understand that people have concerns, understand that hard things are hard, but that we are taking into account these concerns… You have the chance to go out in your communities and don’t shy away from what we’ve done. You should be super proud about what we’re doing,” she said.

Lately, the ruling Liberals have been facing opposition and criticism of its handling of the file from both sides, focused on ongoing uncertainty with the Kinder Morgan pipeline, despite promised federal action, as well as the national carbon pricing plan that some provinces are pushing back on.

The frustration was evident outside of the convention centre on Friday, where a few dozen protesters, including representation from the Council of Canadians, brandished signs and called out the government. 

Many were voicing concern over the BP energy company, offshore drilling and oil spills, and called on the federal Liberals to pull Bill C-69, a wide-spanning overhaul of the environmental assessment process.

The Council of Canadians argues the bill will hand more power to “unelected, industry-laden” review boards. 

McKenna was part of a panel discussion on Canada’s environment and economy, alongside Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc. The panel was moderated by Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to McKenna, Jonathan Wilkinson, whose riding is along the Kinder Morgan pipeline route. The panel referenced how he’s been having some difficult conversations about the Liberal’s position. 

“We are under no illusions about how controversial these projects are,” Carr said. “Within our party there will be those who think that pipelines are not a great idea, but when they hear the arguments about the alternatives of moving the product by rail… investing in the Canadian economy in a way that doesn’t benefit one region of the country but benefits all of Canada, I think they’ll see the position that we have taken.” 

Asked about the Liberal call to defend their policies, one demonstrator told CTV News.ca that the real test will come at election time. 

“They got elected on a whole lot of very progressive and green promises and they’re not living up to it. They don’t seem to want to consult, now that they got the big majority they seem to turn their back, well unfortunately for them there’s still a democracy here, and maybe they will feel the sting for becoming the lapdog of industry,” said Joyclin Coates, who lives in the Halifax region.

As British Columbia and Alberta continue to feud and the pipeline company expresses continued skepticism over the viability of the Trans Mountain expansion, Carr and McKenna both expressed frustration. 

“Here we are re-litigating this, and what does that do for certainty for investment in our country?” McKenna said. 

“It’s not comfortable watching the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia having such a tough conversation in public about the provincial interest,” said Carr. “There is only one government of Canada, we will be accountable for protecting the interest of the entire nation.”