In case you hadn’t heard, the B.C. government has five conditions for any company proposing to transport heavy oil to the coast.
The first condition is “Successful completion of the environmental review process.” Under the equivalency agreement signed by the BC Liberals in 2010, the province accepts the outcome of Ottawa’s pipeline approval process as its own. More on that in a minute.
Back in June, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal cleared the federal review and received its first checkmark from the Clark government.
Did Kinder Morgan’s proposal sneak through at the same time?
Last week Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee appeared to think so. Here’s what he wrote in an email to a constituent, which was forwarded to Dogwood Initiative: “Regarding the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project, as far as I know at least four of the conditions have not been met yet.”
Hang on. At least four?
Conditions two through five demand ‘world-leading’ spill response systems on land and along the oil tanker route, the fulfillment of legal obligations to First Nations and a ‘fair share’ of the economic benefits for British Columbia.
On all of those points both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are a long way off.
So did Richard Lee think Kinder Morgan had already been approved by Ottawa? Or has he just not been paying very close attention?
If Lee had picked up a newspaper recently he would know more than 100 citizens were arrested on Burnaby Mountain (many of them his constituents) trying to stop Kinder Morgan from drilling core samples for inclusion in the project application.
At the same time, First Nations along the pipeline and tanker route were delivering powerful testimony at review hearings – undaunted by cringe-inducing questions from Kinder Morgan’s lawyers, like whether Indigenous people still eat much fish.
So yes, the pipeline review is ongoing and yes, most of us already know what Ottawa’s answer will be, but no, Kinder Morgan has not fulfilled any of B.C.’s five conditions.
This week the Burnaby North MLA appeared to figure things out. He released a carefully scripted statement to media declaring: “Our government’s position has not changed,” followed once again by the five conditions. He’s then quoted as saying “The Province of British Columbia has intervenor status in the National Energy Board review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion project and we are actively representing the interests of the people of British Columbia”.
I would dispute that last point. And talking to family members who have lived in Burnaby North since the early 1960s, it’s clear to me Richard Lee is doing a poor job representing his constituents on the number one issue in the neighbourhood.
Last month Dogwood Initiative commissioned a poll in the riding. 300 randomly-selected residents were posed this question by telephone: “Your provincial MLA in the riding of Burnaby North is Richard Lee of the BC Liberal Party. Please say if your overall impression of Richard Lee today is positive, negative or mixed?”
46 per cent said they had no idea.
Lee has been the MLA since 2001 – in other words, he’s had 13 years to develop a relationship with the people he represents. Yet after all that time, only 21 per cent of residents report a favourable impression of his work. That said, he’s more popular than Kinder Morgan, which so far has endeared itself to only 17 per cent of residents.
“Kinder Morgan’s pipeline project is currently under review by the National Energy Board, a federal agency,” the survey continued. “Some people believe B.C. should set up an independent review. Do you agree or disagree?”
71 per cent agreed.
When asked what they thought of Richard Lee and the BC Liberals’ position – that it’s better to carry on as an intervenor in the federal review – only 23 per cent thought that decision “serves the interests of people living in Burnaby”.
The fact is, our provincial government has powers it has chosen not to use. Last month Quebec announced it will hold its own review of TransCanada’s Energy East proposal. British Columbia could do the same. All that’s required to pull out of the equivalency agreement with Ottawa is 30 days’ notice.
As a province we could create a fair, independent review that actually asks the question: is this project in the best interests of the people who live in British Columbia? A new process could uphold First Nations’ rights and title, and respect municipalities. The province could even evaluate climate and economic impacts that Ottawa refuses to study.
Instead, Richard Lee and his BC Liberal colleagues are trying to evade the issue. When forced to answer, they pass the buck back to Ottawa. “We’ve always believed in one project, one process,” says Environment Minister Mary Polak, “I don’t see what we would accomplish by pulling out.”
Her words bind British Columbia to a flawed review and an undemocratic outcome. Ottawa has shut the public out of hearings, denied intervenors the basic right to cross-examine the company, and put the final decision in the hands of the federal cabinet.
If you think this is wrong, please sign our new petition calling for a provincial review of the Kinder Morgan project: http://BCreview.ca
Or send a polite but firm email to Richard Lee: Richard.Lee.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Watching the National Energy Board review a pipeline is like trying to watch a hockey game when you don’t trust the referee. People in Burnaby North have seen enough. It’s time for Richard Lee to stop hiding behind Ottawa’s broken process.