By caving to Ottawa and the oil industry, B.C.’s premier would break her promise to our province

After Prime Minister Trudeau approved Kinder Morgan last month, all eyes turned to Christy Clark. She responded by saying Kinder Morgan was “very, very close” to meeting her government’s conditions for oil pipeline and tanker projects through the province — save some final negotiations around marine safety and economic benefit.

Now that Premier Clark is so keen on getting to yes for Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker proposal, it is worth examining the promises she made to our province — especially the five conditions which formed the foundation of her government’s formal opposition to Kinder Morgan earlier this year and their continued steadfast opposition to the now-dead Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal.

Her five conditions were not met then, and have not been met now either. Let’s have a look.

#1. Successful completion of the environmental review process.

B.C. is legally required to issue its own environmental assessment for pipeline projects. Premier Clark could have used this opportunity to conduct an independent provincial review — say, a meaningful process that actually considers climate change or the latest science on how diluted bitumen interacts with water.

Instead, this June the B.C. government quietly copped out and accepted the Harper-era National Energy Board’s (NEB) analysis instead.

So, sure, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain proposal has received the NEB’s rubber stamp. But it hasn’t gone through a rigorous, evidence-based environmental review process.

#2. World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery system

Last month, Trudeau coughed up $1.5 billion for his ocean protection plan, spread out over three coasts and five years — a long overdue safety commitment for the existing traffic going up and down B.C.’s coastline, like the Nathan E Stewart, an American tugboat that sank in October while pushing a fuel barge near Bella Bella. Still, his plan does nothing to make bitumen float or to make this substance recoverable once it has spilled into our coastal waters.

Georgia Strait Alliance’s Alexandra Woodworth nails it: “There’s no technology to recover dilbit that’s sunk below the surface. But no matter what kind of money the province and feds want to throw at this problem, there is no way to get there. A world-leading system is still not in place. (The Premier) promised to stand up for British Columbians on this issue. This condition hasn’t been met on marine spills or response.”

The clear choice is to prevent this risk in the first place by rejecting a seven-fold increase in bitumen-loaded tankers travelling through the Salish Sea.

#3. World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems

In January, Christy Clark’s government cited land-based spills as the major reason her government opposed the Trans Mountain expansion proposal. Their NEB submission featured more than 20 pages of detailed concerns, including poor leak detection and response, threats to drinking water and critical fish habitat, not to mention the track record of seven spills along the existing Trans Mountain route in the last decade alone.

The province then concluded, “the evidence on the record does not demonstrate an ability to respond adequately to spills from the pipelines.” It’s hard to imagine what new evidence Premier Clark has seen over the past year to change her mind about the properties of dilbit or Trans Mountain’s safety record, but dozens of industry lobby meetings might have had something to do with it.

Accidents happen. For the hundreds of salmon-bearing streams, for the families, farms and schools along the pipeline route, empty reassurances aren’t good enough.

#4. “Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed.”

We’ll know by the end of this year just how many First Nations are suing over Trudeau’s Kinder Morgan approval. Until those cases are resolved, it is not clear whether the Kinder Morgan approval is even legal.

The Crown has a duty to consult First Nations on projects through their territories, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples mandates projects like Kinder Morgan’s receive consent. Many First Nations along the pipeline and tanker route that — despite the money offered, despite the fear their concerns will be ignored if they don’t sit at the industry table — have actively refused to sign on or consent.

The Gitga’at case proved the province, too, has a constitutional obligation to consult, in addition to the federal Crown. We don’t know yet if the few extra months tacked on to Harper’s review process will do the trick for the courts when directly affected First Nations are arguing this project threatens the very survival of their culture and territories. And at the very least, a provincial approval would undoubtedly put B.C. taxpayers on the hook for millions more in legal fees to fight our Indigenous neighbours in court.

#5. “British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits.”

What do you think would be a fair share for wiping out the last resident orca family on the South Coast, or risking B.C.’s multibillion dollar coastal tourism economy? For the threat a tank farm explosion poses to the safety of those living next to or going to school at Simon Fraser University, or the health risk of using highly toxic yet recently federally-approved oil dispersants like Corexit? For leaping further down a path of dangerous climate change? For doing “irreparable” harm to our relationships with the First Nations whose territories we live on?

Forgive the sarcasm. But I hope Premier Clark’s government is doing some serious fact-checking of industry economic benefit claims — and some serious soul-searching as to whether the coast and climate our future generations will inherit is really hers to sell.

Why would Premier Clark possibly approve oil tanker expansion opposed by a majority of British Columbians? When tanker opposition outweighs support two-to-one, you have to wonder what backroom dealings motivate the Premier’s recent change in tune.

Earlier this year, Trudeau’s Liberals gave the green light to Petronas’ emissions-intensive Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal, undermining their own climate promises. Trudeau’s government also signed off on permits for Site C, which his top B.C. cabinet minister agrees runs “roughshod” over Indigenous rights. Premier Clark considers both of these projects key to her re-election campaign next May, and on both counts Trudeau went the distance to directly contradict his own election promises for her.

If Clark got two mega projects okay-ed by the federal government, what did she offer them in return? Odds are our Premier planned a horse trade with Ottawa, accepting more oil tanker traffic along the South Coast in exchange for her proposals to sacrifice critical salmon habitat and Indigenous land rights in Northern B.C. What a deal!

And no doubt the more than $700,000 in donations from Kinder Morgan and industry bedfellows to Clark’s BC Liberals has pushed her further over the edge towards “yes.”

Premier Clark’s decision on the project could come in the next couple weeks — a holiday gift for Texas oil barons, by the looks of it.

But make no mistake. If Clark approves Kinder Morgan later this month, it’s not because her five conditions have been meaningfully met. It’s because she’s more interested in backroom deals with federal power brokers and industry lobbyists than she is in keeping her word to British Columbians.