Kinder Morgan Panel offered us an opportunity to vent but not be heard. Were our efforts in vain?

I had a dream last night about the Kinder Morgan panel. I was on a large parade ground and an officer leaned into my jeep and demanded that I testify on corexit – the chemical dispersant used to break up oil spills and distribute the oil throughout the water column. My mind raced over what little I knew – its recent approval for use in Canada and its controversial application during the Deepwater Horizon spill where many claim it made the oil more toxic.

It was a trial, but it wasn’t Kinder Morgan and their pipeline and tanker proposal on the dock. I was being tested.

I don’t take dreams literally, but I bring this one up to say that concern for tankers and pipelines runs deep. Somewhere in our subconscious the black goo mingles with our hopes and fears for the future. Our deep-seated anxieties about climate change and the health of our planet mix with our own insecurities, and the phenomenal challenge we face setting things right. Are we up to the task?

The Ministerial Panel for Trans Mountain Expansion Project was in Victoria this week and speaker after speaker stood up and poured their heart out to the panel. People spoke about Kinder Morgan’s impact on climate change, the vitality of our oceans, and the environmental and economic risks the project would bring. Serious flaws and omissions in the National Energy Board review were highlighted as well as frustrations with the current panel, in particular Kim Baird’s conflict of interest.

Over and over again the speakers drove home the importance of our ocean to our community, culture and economy. Over and over we spoke of the insanity of building major new fossil fuel infrastructure when our survival depends on transitioning to a low carbon economy.  Over and over again Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker project was rejected.

The speeches were passionate, informed and moving — but were they heard? The panel billed itself as an opportunity for voices excluded from the NEB review to be heard but tellingly couldn’t adequately accommodate even those that turned up to meeting. More than 100 people were shut out when the hearing room reached capacity and fewer than half the 181 speakers that signed up got to talk. It was a disgrace.

The flaws with the latest panel are not mere organizational oversights. Scheduled hastily during the last days of summer with inadequate notice and an unrealistic deadline it sought to minimize participation. And with no ability to review scientific evidence or allow for the cross examination of Kinder Morgan’s NEB filing, it makes no attempt to fill the most egregious gaps in the NEB’s flawed and biased review.

The panel allowed us an opportunity to vent, but not to be heard. There is no reason to be confident its final report will accurately reflect what went on in hearings. Kim Baird’s op-ed in the globe and mail gives us a likely preview into how our submissions will be framed. Those crying for a legitimate process were characterized as complainers and the near unanimous opposition to Kinder Morgan’s project the panel has heard in B.C. was relegated to the bottom of the list, just one of five themes the panel was hearing. Industry, impatient to get their project built, was given top billing.

So were our efforts in vain?

Something special happens when people speak what their heart holds true. Although the panel was not set up to hear us, in an important way our voices were heard by those who really count. One of our volunteers summed it up for me, “Hearing all those speeches I know I’m not alone.”

Our experience with the panel confirms what we already knew. This project will not be defeated by a panel report but by the passion of people coming together to work for a better future. The government has shown its hand — its promises are hollow. It’s up to us to remind them that they work for us, the people who elected them.

Our passion runs deep and I know we’re up to the task.