Letter shows Trudeau ready to break promise on Kinder Morgan

Oil tanker approval would betray written commitment by Liberals.

Sitting in a Burnaby hotel ballroom this week across from three sheepish federal pipeline panelists, I couldn’t help but remember a conversation I had with Justin Trudeau one year ago. “All I want to know,” I asked at a campaign stop, “is does your NEB overhaul apply to Kinder Morgan?”

The future Prime Minister didn’t hesitate. “Yes. Yes. Yes. It applies to existing projects, existing pipelines as well,” Trudeau said to me. “Okay, so if they approve Kinder Morgan in January, you’re saying –”

“No, they’re not going to approve it in January,” he said, referring to the National Energy Board’s original timeline. “Because we’re going to change the government. And that process needs to be redone.”

He was right about the election. But the NEB gave the thumbs-up to Kinder Morgan anyway (albeit four months late due to a conflict of interest scandal). And the “supplemental review” underway in Burnaby falls woefully short of a redo.

Following rules laid out by Stephen Harper, the new cabinet has until December to approve or reject the project. But if Trudeau issues permits on the basis of the slapdash assessment process so far, he won’t just face lawsuits from First Nations — he’ll be betraying a written promise to British Columbians.

The letter

In case their leader’s position was in any way unclear, Liberal party officials sent me a follow-up letter, which I am sharing publicly for the first time. “Dear Mr. Nagata,” begins the letter, signed by president Anna Gainey and dated October 5, 2015 — just two weeks before Trudeau won a majority government.

“Thank you for writing regarding the Liberal Party of Canada’s position on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. As you are aware, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada have serious concerns with the process surrounding the approval of this pipeline. We cannot support the pipeline in its current form because the Conservatives have not ensured environmental, community or stakeholder consent.”

Then a line that we heard countless times on the campaign trail: “We agree with what you, and Canadians across the country, have been saying for a long time: Canada’s environmental assessment process is broken.”

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The document is full of copied-and-pasted platform commitments, none of which, strictly speaking, have come true:

  1. “A Liberal government will launch an immediate, public review of Canada’s environmental assessment processes.” (The deadline for recommendations is January 2017, after the cabinet’s final decision on Kinder Morgan.)
  2. “As part of this review, we will modernize and rebuild trust in the National Energy Board.” (The old Harper-appointed NEB is now tackling the Energy East proposal, with typical disregard for ethics. Last week it was revealed that TransCanada consultant Jean Charest met secretly with the board’s CEO and two panel members to discuss the application. Both organizations tried to deny the meeting had taken place.)
  3. “We will, in full partnership and consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples, undertake a full review of regulatory law, policies, and operational practices.” (Still waiting.) ”This will ensure that the Crown is fully executing its consultation, accommodation, and consent obligations on project reviews and assessments, in accordance with its constitutional and international human rights obligations.” (Trudeau’s government just issued permits to the Site C mega-dam, prompting outcry from Amnesty International and two First Nations challenging the project in court. Meanwhile, First Nations near Prince Rupert are preparing litigation and blockades of Lelu Island in anticipation that Trudeau will approve a Malaysian gas terminal there in September.)
  4. “We understand that governments may be able to issue permits, but only communities can grant permission and a Liberal government will undertake broad consultation with stakeholders and civil society on the issues that matter to them.”

It’s the final point that brought me to the ballroom of the Hilton Metrotown, to participate in an “Environmental NGO roundtable” hosted by the federal government’s new Kinder Morgan panel. This is the extent to which Natural Resources minister Jim Carr has been willing to go to remedy the many shortcomings of the NEB review.

Panel chair Kim Baird is an oil & gas lobbyist who once signed a partnership agreement with Kinder Morgan, went on an executive exchange with the CEO and later shared staff. But that’s not conflict of interest, says Carr’s ministry. “We must have confidence in our system,” insists Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. And so I went.

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Public frustration

My first question to the panel was how the day’s discussion would be made available to the public. With no video livestream, no recordings, no stenographer, translators or public repository for documents, the new panel is even less equipped than the NEB, which at least pretends to function like a court of law.

Baird had no answer, other than to suggest that notes might be typed up and posted to the ministry’s website at some future date.

The scheduled speakers in the “roundtable” comprised two streamkeeper groups plus Resource Works, a pro-pipeline industry group. That was all, until I put my name on the list to speak. How were the participants selected? I asked. It turned out they had emailed the panel requesting a spot. It’s not clear if any invites were sent out.

Where can the public see the list of participants? I asked. Again it was suggested that such information might be posted online later.

How will you test contradictory evidence, I asked, and how will you weigh different types of evidence in your final report? We’re deciding that as we go along, came the answer. So it’s a black box? We’re really just here to relay people’s concerns to the minister, said Baird.

How then, I asked, do you plan to read everything before your fall deadline? 15,000 people so far have filled out an online questionnaire. Intervenors are submitting documents by email comprising hundreds of pages of scientific evidence rejected by the NEB. Are there enough hours in the day? No answer.

“I’ve never been more frustrated in my life,” said one onlooker afterward. “What a joke,” said another.

Consultation has not begun

The conclusion I am forced to draw is that this “redo” is nothing more than a political barometer for the government. With no investigative powers, scientific expertise or resources to speak of, the panel members sit mutely in their chairs and jot down a few half-hearted notes as people plead with them from the microphones. At the end, their report goes into a top hat and — poof! — the minister pulls out a yes or a no.

That’s not a public infrastructure review worthy of a G7 nation like Canada. Real consultation requires that people understand the terms of inquiry, and trust that the process is inherently fair. In other words, public consultation on Kinder Morgan has not yet begun. What the government will learn in December is that approving a massive oil tanker project on the basis of this empty pantomime is a quick way to end the Trudeau honeymoon in B.C.

I’ll leave you with these words from the Mayor of Burnaby, Derek Corrigan.

3 Responses to “Letter shows Trudeau ready to break promise on Kinder Morgan”

  1. Gary Wilson says:

    I completely agree with Mr. Nagata’s article. I attended the meeting described above at the Hilton Metrotown in August on the third day. The panel were almost completely silent. They claimed to be taking notes and that the notes would go to the appropriate people (the Minister responsible I assume). The overwhelming majority of people who got up to make a statement were against the expansion. Kinder Morgan has shown a blatant disregard for the safety of the people along the pipeline route and in particular to the community which has developed around the tank farm on Burnaby Mountain. The tank farm is not big enough to safely contain the number of tanks proposed. The product, diluted bitumen is extremely dangerous, containing known carcinogens. The region is a known earthquake prone area which is long overdue for a major earthquake. The company has refused to provide any firefighting capability at the tank farm despite the fact that they have been repeatedly warned by the City of Burnaby that it does not have the specialized equipment necessary to fight the type of fire that could happen at the tank farm. The NEB process itself is deeply biased in favour of Kinder Morgan as can be seen by the descriptions of the Board members who are in the main former oil company executives. This process must not be recognized as the final decision source for the government. Today, three members of the NEB who formed the review panel for the Energy East pipeline recused themselves. The decisions made by the NEB regarding the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion into Burnaby must be immediately rejected by the government of Canada. We must have a public review process that we can trust and have confidence in. I expect the government to show the leadership required to make this happen.

  2. M. Nash says:

    Thankyou Gary Wilson and Mr. Nagata for your diligence and attention to detail to help inform those of us unable to attend, I live provinces away. Because of your committment we are aware of the imminent doom arising. I can only hope the people once again rise up and disallow any type of go ahead from this evil company. The people are the only ones who can prevent it and together the people do have the power. Are there actual good leaders out there and if so could you be so kind to let us know who. I think the best choice for us as PM sadly left us far too soon. Jack Layton knew what was coming.

  3. Gerald Landry says:

    Were they giving out free Cotton Candy and Popcorn at this Public Consultation. What a disgraceful dog & pony show with NO Recording for the Public Record.

    Quote Kai: My first question to the panel was how the day’s discussion would be made available to the public. With no video livestream, no recordings, no stenographer, translators or public repository for documents, the new panel is even less equipped than the NEB, which at least pretends to function like a court of law.

    Gary Wilson your statement: “The company has refused to provide any firefighting capability at the tank farm despite the fact that they have been repeatedly warned by the City of Burnaby that it does not have the specialized equipment necessary to fight the type of fire that could happen at the tank farm”. Ref:

    Texas City Refinery explosion – Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_City_Refinery_explosion
    The Texas City Refinery explosion occurred on March 23, 2005, when a hydrocarbon vapor cloud was ignited and violently exploded at the ISOM isomerization …
    Background · Circumstances of the accident · Investigation reports · Aftermath

    BP America Refinery Explosion – Investigations | the U.S. Chemical …
    http://www.csb.gov › Investigations
    At approximately 1:20 p.m. on March 23, 2005, a series of explosions occurred at the BP Texas City refinery during the restarting of a hydrocarbon isomerization …

    Because the highly volatile dilutant is to be separated from the bitumen and shipped back to Fort McMurray it is very likely the vapours generated will escape to atmosphere…
    leaving the community adjacent to the Tank Farm in a very precarious position.

    This shows the downloading of Fire Suppression to the local tax base of Burnaby. A lawsuit should be filed against Kinder Morgan for Gross Negligence and Endangering Public Safety by the City of Burnaby. Another example of Taxpayers Subsidizing the Oil Industry is the promise of a Federal 1.5 Billion for Marine Spill Cleanup. Why, I ask should the taxpayers shoulder this expense. It has always been a Corporate Responsibility that they provide all Details of THIER Spill Cleanup Procedures before being Granted PERMITS to Operate.

    The Federal and Provincial governments have been proving to be Corporatist Call Girls, excuse the gender bias, but it sounds better than sex trade workers. They are allowing Corporations to operate aged dangerous pipelines way beyond Safe Working Life endangering those living within the Flow Path of an Oil Spill, plus the environment held in common by the graciousness of First Nations peoples. The citizenry are left to bear the tragic losses that will occur comparable to a government sanctioned sex slave. Meanwhile the Commodity Traitors glean their profits garnered by negligence.

    The potential Loss of Life similar to Lac Megantic is scary. Oil flows downhill, a Hard Cold Fact that the self entitled Corporitist Elite blindly ignore, never talking publicly that they have a responsibility to practice “DUE DILIGENCE” and pathetically our governing body the NEB are embedded with the Industry. A 63 year old pipeline must be taken out of service and removed from the ground. The TSB has recently removed pictures of outside pipe corrosion in the Beardrmore Pipeline Explosion 2010 when it took TCP 8 hours to shut off the natural gas flow. Snow was melting off rooftops from a vertical gas flare. Note how close the community is to the rupture. PDF]
    Pipeline Investigation Report P11H0011
    http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/pipeline/2011/p11h0011/p11h0011.pdf

    Sadly the NEB, participated with the Whispering Pines, Clinton Band negotiations., as heard on the Current, Cbc Radio interviewing Chief Ed Lebourdais where he recounted all the promises of new Community buildings, cash etc. I glanced over this document which lists dozens of First Nations Communities and did not notice any concerns over the fragility of human life if there is a pipeline burst with an explosive fire as the many train derailments have. Ref:

    [PDF]
    PART 3 – ABORIGINAL ENGAGEMENT UPDATE NO. 1 OCTOBER 1 …
    https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/open/2434444
    Mar 3, 2014 – 1.2.2 Aboriginal Communities, Groups, Associations, Councils and …. (NEB) pursuant to Section 52 of the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act) for the Project. … Trans Mountain has taken an open, e xtensive and thorough …… to meet, noting that team member could call in for the meeting as an alternative.

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