Review panel member says her past with Kinder Morgan is no big deal.
Imagine in the middle of a murder trial, it turned out one of the jurors was friends with the accused. The judge would have to call a mistrial and start over.
Well, Texas pipeline company Kinder Morgan is in the same situation. I mean, they haven’t literally killed anyone. Except that time in California in 2004, when five workers burned to death. And that deadly explosion in Texas in 2008. Okay, so they’ve caused hundreds of accidents. But they’ve never killed anyone in Canada.
The point is, Kinder Morgan wants to build a new oil pipeline to the B.C. coast, which would include massive tanks of flammable goo on a hill above Burnaby and hundreds of oil tankers and so on. The federal government is reviewing this proposal before it makes a final call in December.
Who’s in charge of the review that precedes this very, very important decision? A three-member panel. And surely, I can hear you saying, the integrity of this wise trio is beyond reproach? I mean, it would be a total PR disaster for the government to, I don’t know, appoint someone with a longstanding relationship to the proponent, Kinder Morgan. Right?
Enter Kim Baird, former politician turned fracking lobbyist. (Is it just me or are there a lot of those these days?) It turns out that back in 2010, when she was the elected chief councillor for the Tsawwassen First Nation, Baird went on a junket with Kinder Morgan executive Ian Anderson.
Actually, it was a ‘leadership exchange’ that lasted several months. As Baird says in this newly unearthed promotional video, “at first I was concerned that we were too similar”:
Afterward, Anderson and Baird signed a partnership agreement to share staff between the pipeline company and the First Nation’s office. As Grand Chief Stewart Phillip put it, “she was taken into Kinder Morgan’s House for a year. I believe it to be a conflict of interest.”
Yesterday reporter Peter O’Neil at the Vancouver Sun caught up with Baird — now the chair of the Liberals’ new review panel — to ask her for an explanation.
It’s a strange and damaging interview. Baird’s first defence was that the Tsawwassen First Nation now opposes Kinder Morgan. (That’s true as of January 2016. Baird was ousted in a 2012 election). Her second argument undermines the credibility of the process she now leads:
[Baird] noted that the panel’s role is to simply report to cabinet what the three members heard from groups and members of the public, rather than make a recommendation. “I fail to see how my relationship with any involved parties would impact my ability to hear those concerns and relay them to the minister,” she said. “I don’t quite see the conflict.”
In other words, it’s a glorified stenography exercise. Not Crown consultation, not a legal inquiry. Her argument is that this ‘review’ requires so little of the panel members that anyone could do it, regardless of personal bias.
As for her role as an industry lobbyist, [Baird] said she is highly selective about which corporate clients she’ll represent. She indicated she could be making more money than she currently is if she wanted to work for one or more of the major oil pipeline firms.
That deserves one of these:
Look, people have to pay the bills. I can’t begrudge Baird putting her political experience to work lobbying for the Woodfibre LNG plant (good job, by the way). She is by all accounts a very nice person. But that’s not the point.
The problem is putting Baird in charge of reviewing a project proposed specifically by Kinder Morgan, a firm with which she has a relationship going back years. Like a federal judge, she’s now an appointee of the government — meaning she’s shielded from direct accountability to voters. That requires extra care to maintain impartiality.
British Columbians have to live with the consequences of this decision for decades. At the very least, we deserve a fair review. The whole point of this supplemental panel was to restore rigour and transparency to Canada’s joke of a pipeline approval process. I mean, remember this guy?
Trust is what’s at stake here. Trudeau is rushing to make a final decision by December, but lack of procedural fairness, conflict of interest — these are the kinds of things that come back to bite a government down the line. If Ottawa approves this project on the basis of a flawed review, legal challenges could hold it up in court anyway.
Time is running out to fix this. The first step is finding a replacement for Kim Baird.