Canada Government

Notley and Trudeau

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

When they walked in front of the cameras with smiles that threatened to crack their faces, my heart fluttered.

As they began talking about a new era of cooperation in British Columbia and their agreement to “use all available tools to stop Kinder Morgan,” Ban Big Money and bring in electoral reform, I almost began to tear up.

The short press conference Andrew Weaver and John Horgan held to announce the details of their historic agreement could change the trajectory of British Columbia history, if not the country, and the world.

But then I remembered the last time I had felt this way.

My mind jumped back to November 13, 2015, the day Trudeau — our newly elected Prime Minister — released his ministerial mandate letters, making public for the first time in Canadian history each minister’s marching orders for the government’s four year term: use fact-based decision making and be transparent.

Among his many promises, most critical to me and many of us in B.C. was this one: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.”

After 10 years of Harper’s autocratic anti-democratic rule by fiat, the change in tone and form was palpable; it seemed too good to be true — and it was.

The broken promises and betrayals over the last 18 months have confirmed for me that democracy requires eternal vigilance, that politicians are followers not leaders, and that political promises are too easily broken.

All this flashed through my mind as I spent the rest of the day working with colleagues at West Coast Environmental Law to put together a briefing note on the various tools the soon-to-be B.C. government can use to stop Kinder Morgan. Then I went home and turned on CBC’s The National and I started fuming.

The first sound bite was Justin Trudeau in Rome regurgitating his hackneyed talking point of “facts and evidence” This time, he was saying the facts and evidence on Kinder Morgan hadn’t changed despite the change in government, signalling his continued support and intention to push through the pipeline over any British Columbia objections.

Frankly, I almost retched at Trudeau’s hypocrisy. It’s hard to stomach his epic flip-flop on the inadequacy of the NEB’s Kinder Morgan review. The only explanation for his transformation from a hard critic to a cheerleader is political opportunism. There is no other way to reconcile candidate Trudeau’s infamous August 2015 videotaped exchange with my colleague Kai Nagata with his current pipeline stance. The video made clear the future Prime Minister promised the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of Kinder Morgan would be redone.

The betrayal gets worse. In a detailed follow up letter to Dogwood dated two weeks before Trudeau won a majority government – Liberal Party president Anna Gainey wrote about Kinder Morgan’s project:

“Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada have serious concerns with the process surrounding the approval of this pipeline. We cannot support the pipeline in its current form because the Conservatives have not ensured environmental, community or stakeholder consent.”

And here comes the kicker:

“We agree with what you, and Canadians across the country, have been saying for a long time: Canada’s environmental assessment process is broken.”

Yet, somehow the “broken”, unsupportable process miraculously repaired itself as Trudeau mounted the steps at 24 Sussex Drive.

The National also had Jim Carr, the Minister of Natural Resources, defending the Kinder Morgan review as the “the most exhaustive in the history of pipelines in Canada.” Candidate Trudeau’s own words and his party’s letter mock Minister Carr’s claim.

In reality, the NEB’s review of Kinder Morgan was about as fair and rigorous as a Trump national security vetting, without the tweets. I guess there is something about Ottawa that makes politicians like Harper and Trudeau think they can transform black into white just because they say so.

As for Trudeau’s promised “redo”? Although deeply flawed itself, Jim Carr’s slap dash “supplemental ministerial review” identified many important issues overlooked in the NEB process. The panel acknowledged they “hadn’t the time, technical expertise or the resources to fill those gaps.” Concluding, “[o]ur role was not to propose solutions, but to identify important questions that, in the circumstances, remain unanswered (emphasis added).”

Despite this, Trudeau went ahead and approved Kinder Morgan without addressing any of the six unanswered questions raised by the panel.

The notorious Frank Underwood from House of Cards would be proud of Justin and Jim, but British Columbians are pissed.

Many Liberal MPs from B.C. tried to warn the PMO about the inevitable backlash, but they have their own agenda and are ignorant of how B.C. ticks. Just like Harper’s fatal mistake of pushing Enbridge, the PMO seems to be banking on the issue dying before 2019. The Green-NDP alliance makes that unlikely.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s recent pro-Kinder Morgan proclamations were equally ham fisted. “Mark my words,” she said, “that pipeline will be built, the decisions have been made and it is the best interest of Albertans, Canadians and, in particular, British Columbians.”

Nice try Ms. Notley, but where do you get off thinking you can speak for the best interests of British Columbians? I know you’re working hard to drag your province’s laissez faire energy policies into the twenty-first century, but you’re not going to succeed by linking your political survival to something you have no influence over. How exactly are you going to force the B.C. government to approve the 60+ provincial permits Kinder Morgan still needs for construction? Sorry, but you have no power here.

Let’s get real. British Columbians are tired of eastern politicians and federally appointed bodies trying to to force unwanted projects through our unwilling province. And we won’t sit idly by while Big Oil, Notley, pro-oil publications and, of course, Trudeau’s federal Liberals double down, falsely claiming Kinder Morgan is in the “national interest.”

Expect a chorus of pundits and politicos, mostly located east of the Rockies, claiming B.C. has no power to stop it. But don’t believe them. In fact, remind them they said the same thing about Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.

When are the arrogant elites in Ottawa going to stop underestimating the power of the No Tanker/anti-Kinder Morgan movement?

Stephen Harper underestimated British Columbians and it cost him 19 of 21 tidewater ridings and almost 150,000 votes in B.C. And now it has cost Christy Clark 24 of 34 tidewater ridings and ultimately a majority government.

Trudeau has grossly underestimated the depth of the Kinder Morgan opposition and the resolve of British Columbians. So mark MY words — Ottawa’s broken promises on electoral reform and a Kinder Morgan redo could prevent him from retaining his majority in 2019. Incumbent federal Liberal MP’s should have a few sleepless nights after looking at this map:

And while politicians are meeting with lobbyists and hosting cash-for-access dinners, Dogwood staff, volunteers, allies, partner groups and First Nations are talking to everyday British Columbians and building our army of resistance ready to fight political interests trying to push our country backward instead of forward.

When Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said “If Rachel Notley thinks there’s nothing B.C. can do to stop Kinder Morgan, I suggest she look at section 35 of the Constitution,” he was absolutely right. And he wasn’t just flipping the bird to Big Oil and Alberta’s arrogant view that what’s good for them is good for all Canadians. He was showing British Columbians that we finally have a government willing to fight for us and not for the interests of Big Money.

Like most people, I too carry the scars of disappointment from a long list of broken political promises. My flashbacks of Trudeau’s betrayals while watching CBC’s Kinder Morgan coverage are almost painful.

Hopefully, this time is different. The ultra thin margin between the parties means that the soon-to-be government can’t risk breaking its promises. One MLA abstaining, one MLA crossing the aisle or going rogue could topple the government or defeat an important bill. This gives us enormous leverage and opens new doors for holding a government to its promises.

It won’t be easy, we’ll face unexpected obstacles, but if we commit to connecting people together, and creating a framework for them to collectively exert power, we can start creating the province we dream about for our kids.

This is the moment we have been preparing for. It’s our time.

We are big, we are strong, we are resilient, we are organized, and every day we grow more powerful.

If Ottawa, Texas or Alberta want to go toe-to-toe once again, I’m raring to go.

How about you?

Kinder Morgan supplementary hearing room

Trudeau’s new pipeline process: worse than National Energy Board?

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.

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

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.

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.

Where did it all go wrong?

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, members of the public were told they were allowed to go and watch, but without 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. On the day of the meeting the supplemental panel decided to open up the process and allow people to speak or ask questions. Many people chose not to attend thinking there was no such opportunity.

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 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 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 into the few minutes allotted to each speaker.

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

At the Edmonton hearing — 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. A similar situation is happening with 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, 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. Here’s where you can sign up. If the government is smart, they’ll pull the plug on these summer roundtables and come back with a real process.

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