Worse than the National Energy Board?

Conflict of interest, slapdash process drag down Liberals’ Kinder Morgan review

First Nations leaders left in the dark. The public, once again, denied the chance to speak. Add to that a clear conflict of interest at the heart of the panel chosen to review Kinder Morgan’s pipeline proposal and you have a recipe for yet more lawsuits and squandered public trust.

It didn’t have to be this way. After nearly 10 years under Stephen Harper, British Columbians were yearning for a government that cared about public input and would actually listen to them.

We all know how much Harper scorned public consultation, highlighted by Minister Joe Oliver’s attack on well-meaning Canadians as “radicals” for having the temerity to accept the National Energy Board’s invitation to speak at Joint Review Panel hearings on Enbridge’s controversial pipeline and tanker proposal.

You may also remember the National Energy Board’s so-called public hearings this January in Burnaby, where the Harper-appointed panel barred the public from the room. That’s why the Trudeau government announced a new “supplementary process” on Kinder Morgan to restore public trust by actually listening to those most affected.

After all, as Trudeau said so often on the campaign trail, “governments grant permits, but only communities can grant permission.” Yet in what seems like a bad dream, those communities are once again being silenced in the mad rush to get bitumen pipelines to the coast.

Where did it all go wrong?

At first Trudeau’s government was a breath of fresh air, promising broad public consultations on a wide variety of subjects: CBC’s future, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), Canada Post home delivery, legalizing marijuana, employment insurance (EI) reforms,  environmental assessment reforms, electoral reform and a pan-Canadian climate change plan, just to name a few.

Canadians applauded the change in tone in Ottawa and welcomed the opportunity to have a say in issues that concerned them. But the reality is consultation involves more than sound bites. Recent developments on the pipeline file raise serious concerns about the Trudeau government’s commitment to actually listen to British Columbians.

The afternoon before the Canada Day long weekend, Ottawa’s Major Projects Management Office finally released details for the long-anticipated redo of the Kinder Morgan review.

The government announced a series of 90-minute ‘roundtables’ in the middle of summer holidays in seven communities across B.C. Only one, Victoria, is on the oil tanker route. The sessions are divided up between First Nations, business groups, labour and NGOs.

Who gets to speak? That’s up to the Natural Resources bureaucrats. All the website says is “Should you wish to participate by making a presentation or comments to the Panel, please email us at nrcan.ministerialpaneltmx-comiteministerieltmx.rncan@canada.ca to confirm your preferred location and date.”

If you’re counting, that email address contains 62 characters. The longest word in the English language, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, is just 45. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, made famous by Mary Poppins, clocks in at 34 letters.

In addition, four communities (Victoria, Vancouver, Burnaby and Langley) each get a “public townhall with open participation,” time and venue TBD.

After residents on the North Shore vented their frustration to local Liberal MPs, the government quietly added a fifth townhall in North Vancouver on a Friday in August. The rest of the province is out of luck.

For example, in Kamloops this week, members of the public are allowed to go and watch, but it doesn’t seem they will get a chance to comment or ask questions. There are four hours scheduled for First Nations, while invited municipal, business and NGO “stakeholders” have each been allotted 90 minutes. There is no slot for the public to present their views.

So much for transparency and inclusion

Instead of a thorough review that could remedy the fatal flaws of the NEB process, Trudeau’s government appears to have adopted a “make it up as you go along” process that is nothing if not short on rigour. It’s unacceptable that after 12 years of trying to get government to listen, each community only gets a few minutes to sum up their views on the Kinder Morgan proposal.

How about the literally thousands of pages of scientific review the NEB ignored, deemed inadmissible, or failed to consider? How will that be brought into evidence? One such item being the U.S. National Academies of Science report which documented the dangers of diluted bitumen spills (the stuff sinks in water). The NEB rejected the report because it was labeled as “prejudicial” to Kinder Morgan. How is that peer-reviewed science supposed to be presented under this truncated format?

What about the thousands of pages of evidence Kinder Morgan submitted, but was never tested under cross examination? I’d like to see someone try to compress that into the few minutes allotted to each speaker.

Finally, how is Ottawa deciding who gets invited and who doesn’t?

At the Edmonton hearing two weeks ago — the location of which was announced with only 48 hours notice — the majority of people in attendance were those personally invited by the government in advance. Expect the same in the B.C. sessions. I can think of a lot of choice words to describe this “supplementary review,” but rigorous, transparent, open and inclusive are not among them.

I’m deeply disappointed, as will be many other British Columbians that were happy to think “Sunny Ways” was replacing a decade of Harper’s bully tactics. I thought when Prime Minister Trudeau promised Dogwood, on camera, to re-do the Kinder Morgan review that he sincerely wanted to hear from British Columbians. Instead, bureaucrats are racing through these summer meetings so Cabinet can stick to Stephen Harper’s original timeline and make a final decision in December.

Last chance to fix this

The decision whether to expand oil tanker traffic on the B.C. coast is too important to do on the basis of a slapdash PR exercise. This is not a political game. The entire Lower Mainland and South Island would be affected by an oil tanker spill, plus everyone who relies on salmon from the Fraser and Thompson watersheds — or the multi-billion dollar tourism industry on the south coast. And that’s before counting the enormous climate impacts.

As a leaked Finance Ministry memo made clear this week, there is no pressing need for this pipeline: “sufficient capacity is projected to exist to transport oil until at least 2025.” Kinder Morgan’s proposal is all about expanding the oil sands. That’s worth a broader conversation.

Given the legal risks and public dissatisfaction surrounding the NEB’s heavy-handed Trans Mountain process, Trudeau could have extended the deadline for the ultimate cabinet decision. He chose not to. He could have announced a do-over in June after the Federal Court of Appeal slammed Ottawa for its handling of the Enbridge review. Again, he chose not to.

As British Columbians know all too well, pipeline approvals are not simply a matter of technical feasibility. Social, legal and cumulative environmental impacts all factor into a public interest decision that ultimately must be made by accountable, elected members of government.

During the election campaign Trudeau and the Federal Liberal candidates in coastal B.C. seemed to understand this. Their apparent willingness to cancel Enbridge and demand a fair, open, rigorous review process for Kinder Morgan led to them gaining 15 seats while the Conservatives lost 11 seats in our province.

Then the lobbyists swooped in. Now that the Liberals have been in government for most of a year, the backroom pressure and political horse trading is starting to chip away at the government’s campaign promises.

Democracy unfortunately requires eternal vigilance. The people of B.C., together with First Nations, have kept Big Oil and their cheerleaders in Alberta, Ottawa and Bay Street from building a west coast oil port for decades. Together we have held off the greediest industry on the planet for years, thanks to concerted pressure on political decision-makers.

These hearings are part of that seemingly never-ending story. So before you throw up your hands in frustration, remember the real audience is not the panel itself — it’s your fellow citizens and the MPs watching the process unfold. The decision ultimately will be made by our elected representatives in Ottawa and Victoria.

They may have forgotten how to listen. They may have forgotten how strongly British Columbians oppose the expansion of oil tankers in our waters. These town halls, slapdash though they may be, will be our chance to remind them. If the government is smart, they’ll pull the plug on these summer roundtables and come back with a real process.

16 Responses to “Worse than the National Energy Board?”

  1. paul says:

    just won’t accept no.

  2. Gaye Gardiner says:

    The planners of this useless waste of time need to answer a few questions. I don’t think the left hand knew what the left hand was doing . Not mentioning the time and money lost in this charade. Kinders Morgan reps. no doubt showed up with their dog and pony show who by the way are paid experts with expense accounts. The average citizen has baby sitters to pay and travel expenses. All this to speak their truth and by the way they are not trained in selling and marketing.

  3. Jan Slakov says:

    Thanks for letting us know, Will. This process is ridiculous. As Elizabeth May says, the Liberals promised science and evidence-based decision making with a change towards fully respectful relations with First Nations. This process doesn’t measure up.
    We have the Leap manifesto to rally around… but seem to be short on mobilizing capacity. We need to figure out how to create that…

  4. Rick says:

    Should a “National Energy Board” have any say regarding environmental concerns? Particularly one heavily manned by “Oil Industry People”. Maybe we don’t need to wait too much longer to see the true stripes of the new Federal Liberal Government. Why bother to do the “same over again”? Very disappointed.

  5. Janice McKenzie says:

    My frustration with this elected government’s promises to change the way things were done in Harper’s dark ages and then continue to do things in exactly the same manner is deep. I have lost confidence in the Liberal government and I don’t understand or respect their lack of foresight and honour. While countries worldwide are attempting to correct the behaviour that has led to climate change Canada and the US continue to accept payment to stay on a path of destruction.

  6. Paul Irwin says:

    There is something sick in our country’s governance that allows slick lobbyists continual uncontrollable access to our elected representatives.
    The electorate, on the other hand, gets limited carefully controlled access to bureaucrats who at their best are merely a secondary group of advisors rather than actual decison-makers. (a former federal bureaucrat). This must change.

  7. Brian Waite says:

    These updates from Dogwood are being received by us, the choir. Signing petitions is a rather placid response to what is happening. Why not print leaflets and ask your supporters to hand them out to the broader public, who don’t have the wherewithal to attend mid-day, mid-week meetings NEB meetings that are already prejudiced but who might be able to attend a rally on a Sunday afternoon when most of us have some free time.

    Or get more funding to oppose with some slick ads of your own those ads where the Kinder Morgan shills are shown to be good neighbours and so safety minded that a spill could not possibly happen. If Enbridge could make the islands in the Douglas Channel “disappear” the chicanery of these people is shameful, but as we know they are incapable of being embarrassed when caught out with such clear malfeasance.

  8. Heather Erickson says:

    Why can’t we just phase out dependence on fossil fuels, including oil and fracking for gas, and divert our attention to making solar the alternative, wasting untold volumes of water in the process. I know it can be done as people are living in households completely run on solar energy. If it can be done for a home, it can be done for vehicles as well. Fossil fuels are no longer to be considered when we hear from the scientific community that the Earth continues to warm at an alarming degree.

    • Zoltan Buday says:

      There are already cars that run strictly on electric power. Consider the Tesla, all their cars run on only electricity. BMW also has at least one of it’s vehicles (the cross over i3 e drive)so obviously it is possible as it is being done. There is no political will to promote such vehicles sad as that is. Trucks and buses should be electric as well (Canada Post has bought some electric drive trucks) and with government help this transition would go faster and smoother. Sadly there is little political will to do so. we should all put our money where our mouth is and buy electric cars (Suzuki also makes one) My next car will be powered by electricity.

  9. Jean McLaren says:

    this whole thing is crazy. I live on one of the Gulf Islands (Gabriola) and have for the last 41 years. We do not want those dirty tankers to kill our fish and dirty our shores. I have been an activist since the 1940’s and am now 89 years old and still caring about the cost. We have protested, we have written letters and attended meetings and still they say that they want to bring more tankers to our rivers and and coast. We say NO.
    Jean McLaren, Gabriola Islalnd BC

  10. Jocelyn says:

    We definitely and desperately NEED to clean up the corrupt government officials who are in the deep back pockets of the Planet Destroying Corporations that the officials are supposed to be monitoring and controlling..

  11. Zoltan Buday says:

    Trudeau is already a disappointment. The Kinder Morgan issue should have been resolved simply by his campaign promise. Adding more ships of any kind will have a detrimental effect on the pristine fjords of the BC coast (which is also a national treasure) let alone ships that will transport dangerous materials such as bitumen. The risk to BC’s environment is is clear and frightening. Canada’s coastline aught to be protected by out elected officials and not sold to the most greedy. The oils sands are an environmental disaster. Do we as citizens want to accept that kind of risk to our world class beauty and our lives…
    Kinder Morgan has a dreadful reputation of ignoring the environment in favor of profits and when things go wrong they take no financial responsibility for the clean up of their disaster. There is only one response that can be given to this project… NO and a resounding no at that. We cannot have this potential disaster looming over the BC public. The citizens need protection from greedy corporations who are more than happy to destroy nature and the public’s health for their own profit.
    Write Honorable Trudeau please end this nightmare.

  12. Paul Ledaire says:

    This is a disappointing development. We thought we voted out the Conservatives over just this kind of action. We needed change. We voted for change. We must have change.

  13. Anita DEN DIKKEN says:

    What about the contribution of oil to climate change? Let’s not forget that our government
    jumped on the bandwagon at the Paris Climate Change Conference last fall. Permitting more oil shipments does nothing to curb global warming. Let’s set an example for the rest of the world and say NO to Kinder Morgan.

  14. Ralferd Freytag says:

    This action by the Ministerial Panel, as outlined by Will Horter, seems to me like a mere second layer of the same kind of consultation on the Kinder Morgan project as already done by the NEB. The hurried process would point to the panelist’s being strongly inclined to ignore a lot of important scientific evidence. Their allowing limited access for participation to interested persons who will be negatively impacted by oil spills that are bound to happen, I agree, points to that conclusion as well. As described, it will be wasted time and money. The decision to go ahead may already have been made with the consultations’ being largely window dressing.

    What is more important? Is it financial gain by Kinder Morgan if their project goes through, or is it the “value” of the ecology of our West Coast environment, including the financial importance of our fishing and tourist industry? What about the cost of the damage to wildlife along the coast when bitumen oil spills happen? The clean-up of birds, fish, whales, seals, etc. etc. comes at a stupendous cost.This just puts the issues in financial terms.

    A more important cost is an intangible one; beauty when destroyed is often irreplaceable.

    Surely, the way to go is supporting renewable energy, not the building of oil pipelines.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend