Trans Mountain

Jason Kenney

Myths die hard: Santa Claus and Canada’s oil discount

Myths die hard. For example, a third of Canadian adults say they still believe in Santa Claus. Myths endure because they serve a purpose, good or bad. Our job, as responsible adults, is to figure out where a myth comes from and whether it still serves our best interests.

The myths of Santa Claus and the lies about exaggerated claims of a Canadian oil discount (detailed in my Discount Frenzy article) persist because they serve potent interests. Santa evokes powerful nostalgic forces as well as mystical yearnings for comfort and joy. Yet good, noble values are exploited by advertisers and retailers to encourage rampant materialism and overconsumption.

It’s harder to justify the three Big Lies surrounding the alleged Canadian oil discount — they serve the interests of Big Oil, arguably the most powerful industry on earth. They are fighting hard to maintain these lies as the attacks on my previous National Observer article illustrate.

Not surprisingly, supporters of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline, like consultant Blair King and journalist Markham Hislop, took exception to my arguments. However, a close examination of the critics’ claims reinforces my conclusions.


Like the little boy in A Christmas Story who was wrapped too tight in winter clothes, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney in Alberta, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in Ottawa, have clothed themselves with so many big lies about discounted Canadian oil that they can’t move. Their lies, like the little boy’s overstuffed winter jacket, no longer provide protection, but rather create unnecessary risk.

Big Lie #1: The So-Called Alberta Discount: There is no “discount” on Canadian oil. The price differential is related to its lower “quality” and higher transport and refining costs. When you are trying to sell Aunt Jemima syrup you don’t call the price gap between that and pure maple syrup a “discount.”

Big Lie #2: Absurd claims about $80-$100 million in daily losses: The Trump-like claim fabricated by multiplying the fictitious discount on oil by total oil production to come up with a outrageously inflated cost to the economy.

Big Lie #3: Trans Mountain will solve Alberta’s price problem: The erroneous claim that forcing the Trans Mountain pipeline through B.C. will open up new markets in Asia and fix Big Lies #1 and #2.

This veritable Hat Trick of #BigLies is impressive: They use discount frenzy (Big Lie #1 about the co-called oil discount) to allege an $80 million a day national economic crisis (Big Lie #2 about staggering economic losses) in order to support the Trans Mountain oil tanker-pipeline expansion proposal as The Solution to the fictitious price discount (Big Lie #3 about opening new Asian Markets).

Before we delve into a point-by-point response to the critics, it’s worth noting what my detractors don’t dispute. Neither King, nor Hislop, say one word to contest my conclusions about the preposterous claim that Canada suffers $80-$100 million in daily losses because of the oil discount (Big Lie #2). Apparently even some of Trans Mountain’s biggest boosters can’t stand behind this whopper, even though it serves as the foundation of the deceptive advertising campaign that Notley’s government is spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money on.

When you take a moment to stand back from all of this, you have to ask yourself, ‘who stands to benefit from you believing this story?’

Now to the specifics.

Low “quality” of Canadian oil

Blair King claims I’m wrong to label Canadian heavy oil as a “lower-quality product.”

The thing is, it wasn’t me that used that label, it was Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), the federal agency that regulates pipelines.

The term “quality” is subjective. Technically, Canadian oil is a lower “grade.” Like maple syrup, oil comes in a variety of grades, with heavier oils and maple saps being darker, grittier, with thicker viscosity, and more mineral contaminants — thus getting lower grades. The various grades of maple syrup and oils are confusing to most people so, writing for a general audience, the use of lower “quality” is justified, and to King’s chagrin, Canada’s NEB agrees.

The NEB concedes that Canadian heavy oil is an inferior grade: “Heavy crudes are lower quality than light crudes because they yield a lower amount of high-value end-products, like gasoline and diesel.”

Now I may not agree with the NEB on many things, but the matter of grading crude is straightforward. Simply put, King is wrong about the lower quality of Canada’s heavy oil.

Price cut is driven by higher costs (and markets)

In my Discount Frenzy article, it seems I struck a nerve when I pointed out that not all oil is created equal. Just as not all the chocolate or syrups we get in our Christmas stockings are equally valuable, “[t]he simple fact is that not all oil is equally valuable. The price for a barrel of oil depends on many factors: the type of oil, the difficulty and cost of refining it, as well as the cost, distance and method needed to transport it.”

Hislop, after agreeing with me that the primary drivers of the so-called discount are the “lower grade and higher transportation costs that create an historic discount in the $10 to $15 range,” claims I failed to acknowledge the impacts, “when there is more oil than the existing pipeline system can handle.”

His point is simple supply-and-demand economics. When there is more product than the market can handle, prices drop.

The problem with Hislop’s claim is that it’s made up. Just like Will Ferrell’s character doesn’t become an elf just because he yearns to fit in, a pipeline bottleneck isn’t real just because Big Oil and their loyalists keep whining about it. Despite Alberta’s bellyaching, historically there have been very few times where a glut in oil production exceeds pipeline capacity for any significant length of time.

The fact is that until just a few months ago there was no pipeline bottleneck, there was more pipeline capacity than oil flowing. This means that, except for when pipelines are shut down (because they have leaked), or were operating at reduced capacity by government order (because of safety issues), a lack of pipeline capacity doesn’t explain the historic discount.

Hislop attacked me claiming my column wasn’t backed by “facts and data,” but it is he that ignores the data and relies on industry propaganda. Using hard data on actual shipments, a July 2016 Oil Change International analysis concluded, “there is more than 400 thousand barrels per day of spare capacity in the existing pipeline system. It is likely that the oil industry could face one minor constraint, lasting no longer than 18 months around 2018.”

Chart from Oil Change International
Chart from Oil Change International

The reality is, despite Hislop’s claims, Oil Change International’s 2016 analysis and predictions are coming true. There is a short term heavy oil glut, exacerbated by pipelines running at reduced capacity for safety reasons as well as bottlenecks created by heavy oil refineries shutting down for maintenance and new facilities.

Price ≠ Quality

King tries to obscure the “lower quality” oil fact by quoting other NEB statements that Canada’s heavy oil — in certain circumstances — is sold at a premium. King’s argument in essence is: if it sometimes garners a higher price, it can’t be lower quality.

Oil, like maple syrup, comes in different grades, and the price buyers are willing to pay depends on many factors: supply market, availability of inputs, world conditions, competition, weather, geopolitical issues, technical issues, demand market, cost or processing, cost of transport.

Just because in certain circumstances someone is willing to pay a premium price doesn’t make something a premium or higher quality product.

For example, if you had a bottle of larvae-infested pond water you could sell it at a premium to someone dying of thirst in the desert. However, that doesn’t make the dirty pond water clean, pure, disease-free or valuable to the average person.

Chart from Oil Sands Magazine
Chart from Oil Sands Magazine

Back to the maple syrup analogy.

You have a choice if you live in Quebec and produce maple syrup.

You can boil (refine) the raw sap yourself into the tasty syrup people want to buy for their waffles, or you can sell the sap raw. No surprise, those that refine it themselves add value and get a higher price in the marketplace.

Refined, the maple syrup market is huge. Raw not so much. Every Safeway, Loblaws and Save-on-Foods in Canada has shelves full of refined syrup, with the price dependent on the quality one is willing to pay for. The darker the syrup is, the more delicate its flavor, and the longer it has usually been boiled.

If you want to sell it raw, however, you have to find someone that will buy it and your market shrinks drastically. Your potential customer base shrinks to companies that can boil (refine) the raw sap down to something useful to the average person. Refiners that have big boilers can get raw sap from anywhere, the price they will pay depends on the volume you can provide, the transportation costs, the quality (which determines refining costs), and whether your competition is willing to pay more for raw product.

If there are more boilers in a particular region, then transport costs are usually lower and competing boilers may occasionally have to compete for raw maple.

The same dynamic is at play with Canadian oil. Certain regions, like the U.S. Gulf Coast, have lots of refinery capacity and setups that can handle heavier, sulphur-tainted bitumen. Under the right circumstances, Gulf refiners will sometimes pay a premium because they have facilities to cook (refine) the heavy oil more efficiently. Unfortunately for Canada, most refineries, like most maple syrup consumers, like the refined lighter grades and aren’t willing to pay for the rawer product.

Is Canadian heavy oil more valuable?

While both Hislop and King admit that Canadian oil is more expensive to refine, they argue that it is also more valuable. King says, “heavy crude, refined in a heavy crude refinery, gives higher margins and less waste than light crude refined in a light crude refinery. The heavy crude costs more to refine but recoups more per barrel, which results in higher returns…[when] sent to high-conversion refineries in the Gulf Coast, the Midwest and in Asia where heavy crude produces higher margins and more product per barrel with less waste.” (Emphasis added)

Obviously, if you can get Canadian heavy oil to the right refinery, you can sometimes get a higher price. Refineries, if they are willing to invest in all the extra costs of building a more complex facility that can handle the heavy, more polluted bitumen, and the extra energy needed to process into a variety of products, can make more products and more money from the heavy crude.

King critiques me using a logical fallacy called a straw person argument. He gives the impression of refuting me, while actually refuting an argument that I never made. It’s the smoke and mirrors arguing technique in logic.

I have never disputed that once delivered to a region with a high concentration of heavy oil refineries that Canadian oil can collect higher prices.

But the problem for Alberta, Trudeau and oilsands cheerleaders is that there just aren’t that many heavy crude refineries and, despite a multiple decade-long call to build new capacity in Alberta, hardly anyone wants to invest the billions of dollars needed to build more.

Limited refining options and lots of heavy oil from around the world, plus higher transport costs, equals lower prices.

King goes on to critique me by citing the price difference between Mexican Mayan Crude and Canadian WCS, claiming that the “difference in price is due to Alberta WCS being land-locked, plain and simple.”

First, King ignores the fact that Canadian heavy oil has significantly more contaminants such as heavy metals than Mayan crude, making it less desirable and more expensive to refine.

Second, King makes a serious blunder and inadvertently substantiates my argument — he overlooks a crucial factor by omitting the key difference between Mayan and oilsands crude prices.

The price King cites for Mayan crude is the delivered price in the Gulf Coast. Canadian heavy oil price is lower because it still has to be shipped all the way south. In other words, the higher transport costs for Canadian oil explains the price differential, not some imaginary country discount.

No historic backlog of oil

Markham also critiques me using a straw person logical fallacy. His straw person is the oil glut.

The fact is that I’ve never disputed the claim that there is a currently “a backlog of oil waiting to get to market.”

But the historic discount is pure propaganda. As I documented above, oil supply seldom exceeded pipeline capacity until this fall. The current glut has nothing to do with the Canadian oil discount that Alberta has been whining about for years.

No doubt, the oilsands are presently in a pinch. But the challenges Alberta currently faces were predicted and largely of their own creation. As I concluded in Discount Frenzy, decades of bad choices by the oil patch and bad policies by successive governments have left them vulnerable to booms and busts. Unfortunately successive Alberta governments ignored the warnings, but now they want Canada to bail them out with further subsidies and climate unfriendly policies.

Despite his reverence for “facts and data” Hislop relies on questionable data to posit an ongoing glut and pipeline shortage. Markham relies on projections from Big Oil’s lobbyist, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). We all know corporate lobbyists are unlikely to provide unbiased data.

Hislop fails to mention that CAPP has a long history of inaccurately overestimating production projections. Oil Change International effectively critiques CAPP’s inflated pipeline projections, pointing out that they consistently overstate the alleged pipeline capacity bottleneck by undercounting domestic refining capacity, excluding rail capacity, and overestimating the timing and volume of new facilities.

Building Trans Mountain won’t solve Alberta’s woes

Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, who believes his problems will all be solved if he just gets a BB gun for Christmas, my critics join Premier Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau in believing that building the Trans Mountain will solve Alberta’s problems. We fundamentally disagree over whether using massive amounts taxpayer money to force the pipeline through an unwilling province is a realistic solution to Big Oil’s troubles.

My proof that Trans Mountain isn’t the solution is the fact that despite all the talk of new Asian markets virtually no oil has been shipped to Asian through the existing TMX pipeline to Burnaby in years.


Because heavy oil sells at a lower price in Asia, not a premium. Like greedy children on Christmas morning, oilsands producers don’t want to accept less than they can get elsewhere.

Like Bad Santa, King tries to discredit me with another straw person fallacy, Knocking down an argument I never made by misrepresenting a tweet I sent him.

Here’s how King does it: he goes to great length (with charts and quotes) to show that all the current Trans Mountain output goes to refineries in B.C. and Puget Sound via pipeline with what little that remains shipped abroad on oil tankers going to California.

He posits this to counter me, but I have never disputed those facts. What I did dispute was his theory that any increased capacity from Trans Mountain would be shipped to Asia. I called that a “nice theory”

Here is part of the exchange.

Nice theory but the last few years of operations contradict your theory— Will Horter (@willhorter) December 28, 2018

Oil patch producers can choose where, and to whom, they sell their oil. Despite all the whining about (1) the big mean U.S refineries discounting Canadian oil, (2) the need for pipelines to tidewater to access new markets, and (3) the potential of huge new markets in Asia, the oil patch have CHOSEN not to sell virtually any of their bitumen to Asia. The reason: oilsands producers get lower prices in Asia because of limited refining capacity and much higher transport costs.

Unless making a wishlist to Santa can suddenly make the higher refining and transportation costs of heavy oil disappear (along with the upcoming IMO 2020 sulphur standards which prohibit sulphur laden oil from being used in marine shipping), selling Canadian oil to Asia won’t deliver a premium. The higher transport costs and lower prices won’t disappear magically because Trans Mountain is built. More likely, prices will drop as usually happens when you dump more product into a depressed market.

Other than his straw person fallacy, King provides no evidence that any additional capacity from Trans Mountain will end up in Asia. My guess: in the unlikely event that Trans Mountain ever gets built, Big Oil will do everything possible to send all the additional oil to existing west coast refineries where they get a higher price.

Although Hislop repeatedly extols his reliance on “facts and data,” his defence of the controversial Trans Mountain oil tanker-pipeline proposal rests almost entirely on CAPP’s puffed up production projections discussed above.

Hislop doesn’t dispute the fact that heavy oil attracts lower prices in Asia, so even if you accept his dubious capacity calculation as true (which it’s not), his assertions don’t support building the Trans Mountain to Burnaby, rather they bolster plans to build more pipelines to the Gulf Coast.

Canada faces a choice if we want to do our part in reducing climate pollution. We can choose the path of many other countries (exempt Trumpland) and invest in renewable energy like wind and solar and energy conservation, or Notley and Trudeau can subsidize Big Oil with money and lax policies to support their desire to grow oil production. Unless government sets climate-friendly caps, industry will continue to build out and Canadian oil production will rise — although not as fast, or as high, as Markham and CAPP predict — and new pipelines will be needed. However, with approved pipeline underway to existing heavy oil refineries, it makes no sense to spend enormous political capital and taxpayer money to try to force Trans Mountain through.

False myths are dangerous

It’s apropos, just after Christmas, to reflect on how myths, like Bruce Willis, Die Hard. Belief in Santa Claus persists because it provides comfort and joy for many people. But also because powerful advertisers promote Santa to double the number of presents that parents have to buy for their kids, thus encouraging materialism and excess spending.

Powerful forces also want us to believe in Big Lies about oil. Unfortunately, Premier Notley, Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Trudeau are putting a dangerous, and misleading spin on myths about Canadian oil. Myths could be used to help us transition to a renewable future. Instead they are being used to rationalize the status quo and insulate and protect the most powerful among us.

Industries are built and die on these myths. Governments rise or fall on these myths. They affect the choices we as a society make for today, tomorrow and for our children’s future.

Unfortunately, there are no real world angels to counsel our political leaders off the suicidal course like they did for Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey character in It’s a Wonderful Life.

If we are going to create a liveable world for our children, we’d better distill the myths that enhance life from lies that put us at risk from the chaos caused by living beyond natural limits.

Myths die hard: Santa Claus and Canada’s oil discount Read More »

Boxing Day at the Toronto Eaton Centre

Discount Frenzy: The dirt on discount oil

We are being inundated with discount frenzy and it’s not just annoying, it could be life-threatening.

I’m not talking about the onslaught of huckster ads encouraging us to buy, buy, buy on Black Friday, or even today, Boxing Day. No, the truly crazy-making discount frenzy is the barrage of half-truths, misinformation and outright lies blaming Alberta’s woes on the so-called discount on Canadian oil. That’s some serious snake oil (aka propaganda) that is sabotaging our chance to keep the world habitable for our children.

Politicians in Ottawa and Alberta are spinning a good yarn. Their tall tale taps into deeply entrenched Canadian insecurities as well as anxieties about U.S. control of Canadian resources. The problem is, like any good yarn, it’s full of blarney. The truth is that there is no discount on Canadian oil as most people understand the term.

Lower quality = lower price

Yes, there is a price differential between Canadian oil and most U.S. oil, but it’s not because of any “discount.” It’s because Canada’s heavy crude, called Western Canadian Select, is a lower-quality product.

If Aunt Jemima syrup sells for a quarter the price of pure maple syrup that isn’t referred to as a “discount.” Both syrups are used as toppings on pancakes, but they are not equal quality or equally tasty, so no one expects they would sell for the same price. And they don’t.

The same is true for pickup trucks, chocolate, and any of the other products that hucksters are promoting with big discounts. If you agree to buy a top-of-the-line Dodge RAM 3500 or premium Swiss chocolate for a big discount, you would object if the seller instead delivered a low-end Nissan Frontier or a Mars bar. They are different products, selling for different prices. The price differential between the cheaper product and the expensive one is never referred to as a discount. These products are not interchangeable, nor are heavy crudes and lighter oils.

The simple fact is that not all oil is equally valuable The price for a barrel of oil depends on many factors: the type of oil, the difficulty and cost of refining it, as well as the cost, distance and method needed to transport it.

These factors are what drive the price of Canadian oil down, not a discount. Yes, oilsands crude typically sells for $15 to $25 less than lighter oil, but it’s because it’s an inferior, heavier oil that is more expensive to transport and refine. Occasionally, as in October, the differential spikes — often because a pipeline has ruptured or a refinery has shut down — but generally quickly returns to the average margin, as it did this fall.

Heavy oil transportation costs are also higher, primarily because it is thicker and has to be diluted with an expensive, gasoline-like lubricant known as condensate to make it slippery enough to pump through pipelines, which an extra cost that lighter oils don’t require. A recent government report estimates that diluting with condensate costs an additional $14 on each barrel of heavy oil shipped.

Tack on the higher costs of refining the complex, sulphur-rich hydrocarbons in heavy oil and there you have it: the price differential explained, without resorting whining about Canada or Alberta being picked on. In fact, if you correct for higher transport and refining costs, most of the time Canadian oil has been selling at a premium, not a discount.

Canadian oil prices will likely drop even further in the future as new fuel standards for marine shipping kick in. The new rules, known as International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2020, will limit the use of lower-quality, higher-sulphur heavy sour crude like those produced in Alberta. This will shrink Alberta’s share of marine fuel market and add an additional two to three dollars a barrel in refining costs to remove the sulphur.

Canadians, including our media, like to mock Donald Trump for his Big Lies, but we’re not much better at holding our politicians to account. Discounted Canadian oil is our own True North version of the “Big Lie” technique perfected by Trump. Even though the “discounted oil” idea is easily proved to be untrue, Canada’s media has aggressively amplified this propaganda. A Google Trends search of “Oil + Discount” in Canadian news reveals between 40 and 100 news articles every day using these terms together over the past 90 days.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau’s manipulation of the word “discount” to describe the price differential between heavy Canadian oils and lighter oil down south is Big Lie #1.

Premier Notley knows that different quality oils fetch different prices, but touts the so-called discount anyway to try to save her political skin. Jason Kenney, Alberta’s opposition leader, is even more outrageous in his “discounted oil” rhetoric, threatening to provoke a constitutional crisis or attack the charitable status of oilsands opponents. Federal Liberals, led by Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau, are equally barefaced promoters of this propaganda. Shame on all of them. And shame on the Canadian media for regurgitating this snake oil in up to 100 stories a day.

Politicians exaggerate losses

But it doesn’t stop there. Big Lie #2 is the claim that Canada is losing $80 million a day because of the so-called oil price discount. The “$80 million a day” lie is the oil discount lie juiced up on steroids.

Where did this huge number come from?

It comes from Rachel Notley and it’s built on quicksand. Notley’s source is a highly-criticized Scotiabank report claiming a $40 million per day loss from the phony oil discount. Scotiabank’s report has been discredited for relying on faulty assumptions, inaccurate calculations and good old-fashioned puffery. Yet hundreds of articles cite Notley’s claim without mentioning the source’s flaws — or even pointing out that she inexplicably doubled Scotiabank’s $40 million calculation to $80 million. Not to be one-upped in Whopper World, Jason Kenney is now claiming a Trump-like $100 million a day in losses.

The “$80-$100 million a day” Big Lie is like Ohio claiming it is losing millions because Quaker Oats, the local company that produces Aunt Jemima, is selling millions of bottles of their flavoured corn-syrup, but not getting premium maple syrup prices.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Burger King doesn’t sell Triple Whoppers in the rest of Canada, but I’m starting to think they’re sold in Alberta and Ottawa outlets. Notley and Trudeau are not content to rely on two Big Lies, they have to add a third.

Recently Notley said, “Make no mistake, this price gap is a real and present danger to the Canadian economy.” She contends the phony gap is due to a lack of pipeline capacity to move Alberta oil to markets. Trudeau, Morneau, Kenney and others are spewing similar fibs.

Their scheme is impressive: Use discount frenzy (#1) to allege an $80 million a day national economic crisis (#2) in order to demand support for the Trans Mountain pipeline as The Solution (#3).

Trans Mountain pipeline is no solution

Canadian discount boosters claim that the Trans Mountain pipeline is essential to access new markets in Asia to create competition. Competition, they argue, will drive up prices.

Sounds good in theory, but it ignores the extra processing and transportation costs of heavy oil. A new pipeline doesn’t make those costs go away, or get rid of the upcoming IMO 2020 sulphur standards, it just adds additional costs for oil tanker transport across the Pacific.

The boosters’ claim that shipping to Asia will bump up prices also falls apart under scrutiny. If this claim were true then you’d think that oil companies would be elbowing each other out of the way to ship their current oilsands crude to Asia on the existing Trans Mountain pipeline (you know, the one that Trudeau just spent $4.5 billion of our tax dollars to buy).

The reality is that there is no backlog of oil waiting to be shipped to Asia. In fact, Trans Mountain frequently operates at less than full capacity and, despite a blip last month, Alberta producers shipped hardly any oil through it to Asia over the last few years.

The reason?

There is no price premium in Asia. In fact, former CIBC Chief Economist Jeff Rubin concludes “heavy oil … typically trade at more than US$8 a barrel less, not more, in Asian markets compared to the prices Gulf Coast refineries pay.” Canadian oil producers aren’t lining up because they don’t want to lose $8 a barrel by selling their oil in the Asian market.

Now I may not have a Ph.D. in economics, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that pumping more oil into an already depressed market won’t raise prices.

Give Notley, Kenney, Trudeau and Morneau credit for nesting three Big Lies on top of one another to exponentially multiply their impact. Even the Liar-in-Chief down south has trouble matching that.

Despite its erroneous factual basis, the Three Big Lies strategy is working. The Canadian media is amplifying Alberta’s claims and Trudeau has Ottawa ponying up $1.6 billion more of our hard-earned tax dollars to subsidize Big Oil in Alberta.

It’s amazing what a bit of provincial whining will get you in Canada.

Alberta’s bad policies to blame, not discount

The truth is Alberta has no one to blame but itself for the fix it is in. Generations of bad provincial policies dug Alberta into this hole, and now Notley and Kenney are using brinkmanship to force Trudeau to fast-track more bad policies to dig Alberta out.

While the discount frenzy idea metastasizes, what’s missing from most media coverage is the fact that the Alberta government has known for years that the lesser quality (and therefore lower price) of oilsands crude makes their industry vulnerable to boom and bust cycles.

The writing has been on the wall. It’s been carved deep like a phone number to “call for a good time” etched into the door of the local truck stop urinal.

Sadly, successive Alberta governments ignored the warnings, and now want Canada to bail them out with further subsidies and climate unfriendly policies.

Unfortunately, the gap between the rhetoric and the reality isn’t unique to Albertan or Canadian politicians. It’s a global problem. Trudeau inspired the world at the Paris Climate talks in 2015 by claiming “Canada is back.” He’s good at promises and apologies, not so much at standing up to Big Oil. While in years past, that may have been merely annoying, now it’s life-threatening.

As the New Year approaches, the discount frenzy rhetoric is reaching a crescendo.

While the ubiquitous holiday “discount” ads are irritating, we can simply ignore them and spend Boxing Day hanging out with friends and family. Not so the discount oil propaganda. It’s not just annoying, it has real-world consequences.

Canadians can’t just ignore the three Big Lies. Widespread acceptance of this snake oil could have — is having — a dramatic impact on the future our children will inherit. It’s not just rhetoric, the propaganda is actually driving government policy in Edmonton and Ottawa. Instead of phasing out fossil fuels, our politicians are cutting cheques to Big Oil and delaying important climate policies.

If Canadians can’t get a grip on our politicians, then it’s no surprise the rest of the world keeps throwing gas on the fire. We have the responsibility as parents, as citizens, to stand up, speak out and to take a stand against this fraudulent fossil fuel frenzy.

I am pro-life — meaning that I support policies that promote the survival of the web of life and civilization as we know it. I dream of a world habitable by people and critters for many years to come.

So I feel compelled to take action.

I hope you do too. My daughter’s, and your child’s, life may depend on it.

Discount Frenzy: The dirt on discount oil Read More »

Rachel Notley at Board of Trade

Kinder Morgan and the “rule of law”

Part one in a two-part series on whether arguments for the pipeline expansion are based on actual respect for legal procedure.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but it appears that our New Age prime minister has embraced the post-truth era quicker than anyone could have imagined. Quite simply, he is imitating U.S. President Donald Trump in his handling of Kinder Morgan: tell a big lie­­ and repeat it frequently. Attack any opponents as anti-prosperity, and their words as “fake news.” Unfortunately for Canadian democracy, the cynical “big lie” propaganda technique is now becoming the go-to-procedure in Ottawa for all things Kinder Morgan.

Building on a few other whoppers — Kinder Morgan will lower gas prices, Canada needs new tar sands pipelines in order to address global warming, Justin Trudeau’s promise to ensure a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations —we now discover the biggest lie of all: Trudeau cites the “rule of law” in support of his claim that his government’s Kinder Morgan approval was a science-based decision made after carefully weighing all the evidence. Credible reports based on newly available documents and government staff whistle-blower accounts indicate that Trudeau’s approval of Kinder Morgan was purely political, and worse, “rigged.”

Not surprisingly, the pro–Kinder Morgan crowd that has been attacking the B.C. government and other opponents with “rule of law” arguments has been silent in response to these rigging allegations. If they really cared about the procedural fairness that Canadian laws are founded on, they should be the ones calling most loudly for a thorough investigation of the federal approval process (more on the new evidence of improper process later).

Instead, Trudeau’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau once again trotted out the “rule of law” argument to justify his scheme to indemnify Kinder Morgan from all risk using taxpayer money. Morneau said, “As a government we need to ensure that the rule of law is respected and that investors have the certainty needed to complete the Trans Mountain expansion project because it’s in the national interest to do so.”

Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley, who in what might go down as the biggest political blunder in decades allowed Kinder Morgan to become the litmus test for the success of her government,  has the biggest serial spewer of “rule of law” blarney, doubling down almost daily with misguided references to support her threats to ban wine sales and cut off B.C.’s oil supply. This week she referenced it once again to justify her decision to skip the recent first ministers meeting in the Yukon.

582px version of Notley-Tweet.jpg

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s tweet this week. Screen grab from Twitter.

The hypocrisy of the “rule of law” crowd has a long history in British Columbia’s oil tanker and pipeline struggles. Not so many years ago when Stephen Harper was ruling the roost in Ottawa, we began to the hear the “rule of law” touted in support of Enbridge’s proposal to bisect British Columbia with a pipeline to Kitimat, where bitumen would be pumped into oil tankers for export to China. Pro-Enbridge cheerleaders touted the National Energy Board’s recommendation and the Harper cabinet’s approval. “The issue is already decided, they said, “opponents are ‘radicals’ threatening the economy and Canadian democracy.”

As then, so today. Until the new allegations of NEB rigging surfaced, Kinder Morgan’s promoters often referred to the “rule of law” as their rationale for moving ahead quickly with the Texas company’s controversial oil tanker-pipeline proposal.

But what exactly do they mean?

The dictionary defines the rule of law as: “the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced.”

Canada is not a dictatorship. Just because some handpicked board rubber-stamps something, or princely Trudeau (or the bully Harper before him) wants something, it doesn’t mean we all have to march in step to make it so.

What Harper, Trudeau and the pro-oil sycophants ignore is the fact that the Canadian system of law depends on the complex interplay of a wide range of institutions: police; courts; political parties; non-partisan civil servants; independent regulators; and legislatures. Each of these institutions must be perceived as genuinely independent and not beholden to private interests. They each must be impartial, loyal to the broader public interest and obedient to the rule of law.

The NEB recommendation and cabinet approval are just two steps in a process to ensure the rule of law is upheld. Enbridge’s now-defunct west coast oil-port proposal provides a cautionary tale of thinking otherwise. Like Kinder Morgan’s controversial proposed oil port expansion in Burnaby, Enbridge garnered a positive NEB recommendation (with conditions); it received both federal and provincial environmental assessment certificates, and then it got the thumbs up from cabinet in Ottawa. On the surface, it all seemed proper. Yet two separate courts ultimately struck down these recommendations and approvals. The courts determined the processes were fundamentally unfair because they failed to uphold government’s constitutional obligations to First Nations. The true rule of law — not the conveniently fictional one that Harper and the oil industry cited — eventually prevailed in the courts, thereby killing Enbridge’s proposal.

Kinder Morgan the latest “rule of law” sham

A similar scenario is smoldering with Kinder Morgan. Once again, promoters — citing the rule of law — are predicting the sky is falling and the economy will collapse if Kinder Morgan doesn’t go through. They claim the proposal has been over-scrutinized. Their refrain can be summarized as: “Enough already!” Their references to the rule of law should be translated to what they truly mean: “Shut up, get out of the way, and let us get on with what is really important: making lots of money.”

Trudeau and his cabinet claim, as Harperites did with Enbridge, that the “federal review of the Trans Mountain expansion was the most exhaustive in the history of pipelines in Canada.” But in determining whether the rule of law is being upheld, our legal system looks at the quality of the process, not just the quantity. Upon closer legal examination Enbridge failed this test, and, given the similarities, there are strong reasons to believe Kinder Morgan will fail as well.

The shortcuts and flaws in the NEB review of Kinder Morgan are well known. The Trans Mountain NEB review is haunted by the exclusion of many affected people and groups, the limited terms of reference, the lack of cross-examination to test the evidence Kinder Morgan submitted, the exclusion of relevant evidence (such as scientific studies concluding bitumen sinks if spilled), the expedited hearing schedule and conflicts of interest.

Even Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada (before they came to power) admitted the NEB’s review of Kinder Morgan was fundamentally flawed. Much has been made about then-candidate Trudeau’s statements that Kinder Morgan would not be approved, and the review would be redone if he became prime minister. However, a more damaging statement has been overlooked: the follow-up letter by Anne Gainey, then president of the Liberal Party of Canada, wrote just before the election responding to questions put to Trudeau about his statements. Gainey wrote: “regarding the Liberal Party of Canada’s position on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. As you are aware, 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. We agree with what you, and Canadians across the country, have been saying for a long time: Canada’s environmental assessment process is broken.”

Trudeau and the Liberal Party’s pre-election criticisms of the NEB review process was not unique; they were shared by virtually everyone — First Nations, municipalities, scientists, and property owners — who voiced concerns about the proposal. Concerns about the NEB’s Kinder Morgan review being rigged surfaced even then.

It is also worth noting that the NEB’s review of Enbridge — although ultimately determined to be fundamentally flawed by the courts — was much more thorough than their review of Kinder Morgan. Affected people, organizations, witnesses and evidence, excluded in the NEB review in Kinder Morgan, were permitted in Enbridge’s review, and the Enbridge process was not artificially truncated by Harper’s later gutting of environmental laws in 2012. That gutting occurred before the Kinder Morgan review.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr appointed an ad-hoc ministerial panel to make it appear Trudeau’s government was fulfilling its election promise to “redo the review.” The panel’s controversial make-it-up-as-you-go-along meetings were haunted by serious conflict of interest issues. Yet despite all its problems the ministerial panel surprised everyone and recommended that the Trans Mountain pipeline proposal not proceed without a serious reassessment of its impacts on climate change commitments, Indigenous rights and marine mammal safety. Trudeau and his cabinet gave the project the thumbs up just over three weeks later without addressing any of their own panel’s recommendations.

New evidence of “rigged process

If Trudeau’s false promises weren’t enough to threaten the legitimacy of the federal Trans Mountain approval process, we are now hearing credible reports — with documents and several government staff whistle-blowers — describing how Trudeau’s government instructed staff to put their thumb on the scale of justice. Reportedly, Erin O’Gorman — the then-associate deputy minister of the major projects management office — was instructed to “find a way to approve Kinder Morgan. O’Gorman then reportedly told various departments to do just that. In other words, it appears Trudeau betrayed not only his “Sunny Ways” promises, but violated a host of laws by predetermining the Kinder Morgan approval before all the evidence was in, or consultations with affected First Nation were completed.

As biased as the federal process was, the provincial approval process was arguably worse. Back in 2010 while Gordon Campbell was B.C.’s premier, his government signed an equivalency agreement with Ottawa that allowed an NEB review of major proposals like Kinder Morgan to substitute for the provincial assessment. In 2016 the B.C. Supreme Court accepted the Gitga’at/Coastal First Nations argument that the B.C. government acted improperly when it abdicated to Ottawa its responsibility for assessing the environmental impact of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. The court declared the environmental assessment certificate invalid.

This created serious problems for Kinder Morgan, which was also covered by the equivalency agreement. Then-Premier Christy Clark’s lawyers condemned the truncated NEB review of Kinder Morgan. Ultimately, her government officially opposed Trans Mountain, citing concerns about oil spills. Although no new evidence was introduced, the Clark government later flip-flopped and endorsed Trans Mountain after secret negotiations with Ottawa. Rumours abound that Clark’s flip-flop was payback for securing Trudeau’s approval of both Site C and Petronas’s now-defunct Pacific Northwest LNG export proposal near Prince Rupert.

But Clark’s flip-flop opened the door to another challenge by First Nations of British Columbia’s abdication of provincial review due to the equivalency agreement. As with the recent allegations of rigging of federal approval, some B.C. government employees allege that Clark’s government instructed staff to expedite a “Gitga’at–proof” provincial review of Kinder Morgan. Instead of initiating a rigorous process, as a shortcut, the B.C. reviewers accepted all the evidence Kinder Morgan had submitted to the NEB — evidence the province’s own lawyers had previously criticized as inadequate during the NEB review — and deemed that evidence as satisfying their obligation to conduct an independent provincial review. Some public servants objected and reportedly were taken off the file. After a few cursory meetings with affected First Nations, Clark’s government granted the provincial environmental assessment certificate.

Talk about an epic rubberstamp.

Who’s really afraid of the rule of law?

Ironically, when all the evidence is in, it is Kinder Morgan’s cheerleaders, not opponents, that actually are undermining the rule of law. Their get-an-approval-by-any-means-necessary approach — by rigging review processes, ignoring conflicts of interest, trying to pre-empt review by courts, generally putting their thumb on the scales of justice, and using “big lie” propaganda techniques — is the real threat to the rule of law.

But luckily the rule of law doesn’t just include politicians, legislatures, ministers and the courts. Citizens have a critical role to play as well. More on that in part two.

Kinder Morgan and the “rule of law” Read More »

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?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times Read More »

Oil tanker

Lies, Misrepresentation and Puffing the Market

Last week the propaganda campaign pushing Kinder Morgan‘s controversial Trans Mountain oil tanker-pipeline proposal sunk to a new low. In an attempt to assuage investors sniffing around the $1.75 billion initial public offering (IPO) his company is launching on May 31st Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada Limited, issued a press release saying: “Our approvals are in hand and we are now ready to commence construction activities this fall.”

Sounds good doesn’t it?

If only it were true.

It’s not! In fact, it’s a complete fabrication.

When I contacted a senior staffer with the B.C. government and read him Anderson’s quote about having “approvals in hand,” he said: “As far as I know Kinder Morgan has no provincial permit approvals in hand. We are still trying to determine how the 157 conditions the National Energy Board imposed, as well as British Columbia conditions, map onto the provincial permitting process.”

It’s hard to reconcile statement that the approvals are in hand with the fact that no provincial permits have been granted and significant federal approval remain. There are only two possible explanations for this huge discrepancy.

One, Kinder Morgan Canada’s President is lying in order to puff his IPO, counter the escalating political risk facing his proposal, and mislead investors about the timing of when construction will begin; or

Two, Ian Anderson doesn’t know the true state of the permits and legislative risk facing his controversial proposal.

I don’t know which explanation is more damaging when trying to entice investors to hand over $1.75 billion in an IPO.
The reality is that the $7.4 billion proposal only has two of the hundreds of approvals needed to put shovels in the ground.

Let’s recap.

While the Trans Mountain proposal did receive Cabinet approval last November, and environmental assessment approval from B.C. in January, there were 157 conditions set by the National Energy Board as well as dozens more from the Province.

More, almost 400 residents have filed objections to the final route Kinder Morgan is seeking to have approved by the National Energy Board, there is a high probability that some segments of the proposal will need to be rerouted and the final routing decision could take a long time.

Plus the province hasn’t even identified, let alone granted, all of the 60 plus permits needed from B.C.

Sounds like Kinder Morgan faces significant risks and is actually a long way from being “ready to commence construction activities this fall.”

The timing of Kinder Morgan’s press release and initial public offering is also suspicious. The announcement came less than 24 hours after the B.C. election results were finalized, with the two parties holding a majority of the seats committing to do anything in their power to stop the proposal. Meanwhile the bell on the initial public offering is scheduled to ring within hours of the news about a potential governing alliance between parties committed to rejecting Kinder Morgan.

Markets want certainty! So why would Kinder Morgan executives be issuing misleading press releases and rushing to market while facing escalating political risk?

The answer is, as usual, money. Lots of money for the financially beleaguered company bereft of partners, carrying huge debts, a falling credit rating credit rating and a project unlikely to ever be built.

In an investor call held just before the provincial election, financial blogger David Alton Clark asked Kinder Morgan reps what would happen if the Trans Mountain were abandoned. “It would certainly be a major setback, but with ground not broken yet, KMI could direct most of the cash we would use for this project to other projects,” Clark reports them saying.

“The investor relations team indicated only $600 million in sunk costs on TMEP presently,” Clark writes. So, how much cash will Kinder Morgan Canada net if next week’s IPO goes to plan? Somewhere between $500 million and $750 million.

That brings Kinder Morgan’s odd choices into focus. Even if the Trans Mountain proposal gets bogged down – by a antagonistic new provincial government, or by the 19 lawsuits it faces, or by the massive civil disobedience opponents promise – if Kinder Morgan can entice enough investors to hand over $1.75 billion in an initial public offering, the company will walk away with hundreds of millions even if the proposal dies and investors lose their shirt.

No wonder Ian Anderson lied.

Lies, Misrepresentation and Puffing the Market Read More »

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau dangerously underestimates British Columbians

Surprises are becoming the norm in recent elections. Last year Rachel Notley swept the NDP to an unprecedented majority in Alberta, then Justin Trudeau vaulted from third place to win a majority government in Ottawa. This year UK voters stunned pundits by voting to leave the EU, then Donald Trump defied the polls to win in the United States.

Is there a common thread in these upset victories (or losses, depending who you were rooting for)?

Columnists and historians will write volumes on why voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania abandoned the Democratic Party and voted for Trump, but I think it’s pretty simple. People rebel when they feel ignored or taken for granted. Clinton lost her chance to form government because angry voters in the so-called flyover states, tired of being neglected by business-as-usual politics in the capital, abandoned her party to send a message: screw you.

Trudeau seemed to be tuned into the Canadian version of this alienation during the federal election, and his promises tapped into the zeitgeist. His first few months in power were impressive, but recently he has acted like just another Ottawa politician – especially when it comes to the interests of big banks and Big Oil.

When Trudeau swept to power many First Nation leaders were euphoric, singing the boyish Prime Minister’s praises. A month after being sworn in, Trudeau was honoured at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations with a traditional blanket ceremony in front of hundreds of Aboriginal leaders. Now, less than a year later, Trudeau is being barred from Tla-o-qui-aht territory and Indigenous leaders like Caleb Behn, Chief Stewart Phillip, and Roland Willson have publicly said they feel betrayed.  

First it was the approval of Site C dam permits, then a massive Malaysian gas plant in the heart of the rich Skeena salmon estuary, then the mishandling of what should have been a minor tug accident in Heiltsuk territory – which turned into a nightmare after 100,000 litres of fuel and oil escaped, poisoning a vital food harvesting area.

Now Robert Davidson, the Haida artist whose Raven design Trudeau lifted for his shoulder tattoo, has said publicly how disappointed he is in the Prime Minister. And the whiplash felt by First Nations leaders could soon spill over to B.C. voters, whose support for political parties is notoriously fickle.

Like folks in flyover America, British Columbians and First Nations are fed up with federal politicians who jet in for a few hours, make promises to get elected and then disappear when the going gets tough. The Heiltsuk, grieving the loss of their fishing grounds, have publicly challenged Trudeau to fly to Bella Bella and fulfill his promise of an oil tanker ban, “in the spirit of reconciliation”. Not only has the PM not responded, but his government is backtracking on other election promises.

If Trudeau pushes through a Kinder Morgan approval this fall, voters in B.C. will feel ignored, lied to and taken for granted; and like voters in flyover America the consequences could be far-reaching. For more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have been using every available tool to signal to Ottawa that we don’t want an expansion of oil tankers in our fragile waters. And for more than a decade, Prime Ministers in Ottawa have patted us on the head, muttered a few platitudes and then put their finger on the scale to push unwanted projects like Enbridge and Kinder Morgan on our unwilling province. We are fed up.

A lot of people thought our new telegenic Prime Minister would follow through on his promises: kill Enbridge, legislate an oil tanker ban on the North Coast, replace the first-past-the-post system, restore integrity to the NEB process and subject Kinder Morgan to a rigorous review.  

More than a year later, rumours abound that each promise will be abandoned or significantly watered down. So how badly has this backtracking tarnished Trudeau’s image in B.C.?

A new province-wide online poll by Insights West shows strong opposition to increased oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s south coast, especially among voters who supported Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the 2015 federal election.

The poll, commissioned by Dogwood, found two-in-five voters in Metro Vancouver (where the majority of Liberal seats in B.C. are located), said they would be less likely to vote Liberal next election if the federal government approves Kinder Morgan’s oil tanker and pipeline project. Fully 31 per cent of Liberal voters say they would be less likely to support Trudeau’s party if the project goes ahead. Overall, two out of three British Columbians remain opposed to oil tanker expansion and 64 per cent of respondents who voted Liberal in 2015 also oppose.

Other key findings should send a chill up Trudeau’s spine if he intends, as rumoured, to approve the controversial proposal:

  • 62 per cent of British Columbians polled agree a Kinder Morgan approval would contradict Prime Minister Trudeau’s promises on climate leadership and a “new relationship” with First Nations. Among Liberal voters in B.C., 58 per cent agree with this assessment.
  • 74 per cent of British Columbians (and 78 per cent of Liberal voters) say they are less likely to support oil tanker expansion when considering the impacts on the South Coast’s 80 resident orca whales.
  • A whopping four in five young voters under 35 in B.C. oppose oil tanker expansion. (Trudeau gave himself the position of Minister for Youth.)

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Trudeau still has a shot to get himself straightened out. To do that, he should be very careful not to emulate Stephen Harper’s hamfisted efforts to shove oil pipelines down British Columbia’s throat.

Back in 2014 when Harper’s cabinet approved Enbridge, we heard the same rationale from the governing party we are hearing now on Kinder Morgan: Enbridge was just another “issue”, and there would be three years for Harper to rebuild trust. A good theory, but in practice Conservative candidates lost almost 150,000 votes in British Columbia (they lost 24 percent of their voters in ridings with Dogwood organizing teams worked in while only losing an average of 1.7 per cent elsewhere in Canada).

What Trudeau and his advisors seem to be missing out West is that the central question for British Columbians remains (as it was for Albertans after Pierre Trudeau tried implementing the infamous National Energy Plan in the ‘80s and ’90s): Who gets to decide what’s in our best interest — Ottawa or the people who live here?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Trudeau’s father also become intoxicated with his own popularity, blundering into a massive overreach that alienated Prairie voters for a generation. Pierre Elliott Trudeau badly miscalculated the consequences of forcing his controversial National Energy Program on an unwilling Alberta. Ironically, in trying to reboot the historically toxic Trudeau brand in Alberta, Justin Trudeau is poised to mirror his father’s mistake, by forcing a controversial oil tanker-pipeline proposal on unwilling British Columbians.

British Columbia may not be literally a “flyover” province, but many residents still feel ignored as the federal government remains fixated on placating Alberta, Quebec and the population centres in Ontario. While most British Columbians are pleased with the post-Harper tone in Ottawa, we are feeling increasingly apart from our capital, and resentful of decisions being imposed on us from afar. The slapdash Kinder Morgan review process, which failed to meet any objective standard of rigour, didn’t help.

Being lied to and taken for granted hurts, doubly so when your expectations have been raised. The rebellion of the ignored masses in flyover America surprised us all, but now is the time for our leaders to learn from the glaring mistakes that have now been made so clear. If Trudeau doesn’t smarten up and reject Kinder Morgan, or at the very least send it back for a proper review like he promised, his supporters will turn on him.

If that happens, Trudeau could become the thing all Prime Ministers fear the most: a one-term wonder.

Justin Trudeau dangerously underestimates British Columbians Read More »