Opinion: A Question of Integrity – Public Consultations on Trans Mountain Expansion Project

We are nearing the end of additional consultations that Canada's new federal government launched to address concerns along the proposed pipeline route for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. There have been numerous problems with this review process. These have included the lack of transcripts, lack of recording of presentations, lack of translations, and lack of scope for hearing concerns. It also included a lack of services in both of Canada's official languages. The panel will not be making any recommendations to cabinet regarding their observations. Also, the consultations were done in the middle of summer when many potential participants were away on vacation and those who did attend were limited to 5 minute presentations that remained undocumented.

Additionally, we witnessed the panel chair giving media interviews summarizing the proceedings as they were still in the process of collecting evidence and views. This would never have been done by other institutions such as the National Energy Board or other bodies and this was entirely unexpected. What was the purpose of such interviews and why were they being delivered?

To add even more problems, the federal government was leaking its position through anonymous sources hinting that the project was going to be approved even before the deadline to receive online submissions was closed. This latter point was evolving shortly after the hearings into Energy East (a proposed pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick) were shut down due to inappropriate conduct on behalf of National Energy Board staff and panelists. This involved meetings with a lobbyist for TransCanada prior to the hearings commencing. Did the government start leaking information to the media about its position on TMEP as a result of the collapse of the Energy East hearings to reassure industry? And if so, why?

The fundamental issue that many residents had about this project, TMEP, was that the National Energy Board review was perceived as biased in favour of the proponent by its design of the list of issues, to regularly denying intervenor questions to the proponent, to largely reciting the proponent's application back in its final report without constructively including most of the concerns raised by intervenors. On top of this, none of the evidence by the proponent was tested through proper oral cross examination. Unlike what many supporters of the National Energy Board review would like to say, critics of the process, including myself, have thoroughly read the National Energy Board review of the project. We have seen how the board featured concerns of intervenors in the report and proceeded to dismiss those concerns repeatedly. We also witnessed the great degree of discretion that the board has provided the proponent in the board's list of conditions.

During the last election campaign, in October of 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada stressed that the National Energy Board review of projects would be redone. This would include the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion review. Once the party was elected with a majority government, the new government started to walk away from those commitments. We have to assume, based on media reports, that the new government is in someway trying to tie its new environmental legislation regarding climate change to its announcement regarding the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. They are somewhat related though there are many areas that a solution to one does not address the other.

How should residents in downstream communities react when the government that is supposedly trying to gather feedback regarding a project is potentially leaking out its own position even before that process is complete? This translates as regardless of what concerns you raise, as a government we intend to ignore those concerns. The Minister of Natural Resources likes to comment on how his process is more inclusive than that of the previous government but the results look like an extension of that prior process and provides no additional benefit. When the Prime Minister tries to be everything to everyone, he also potentially ends up alienating many people in the process.

A climate change proposal that potentially applies a price on carbon is insufficient to address the legitimate concerns regarding this project which include the lack of government to government consultation with impacted First Nations. A price on carbon has no bearing on this process as the expansion of fossil fuel extraction completely undermines any such proposal. As a result greater numbers of people are alienated and most of the issues remain in effect.

Why should we care as Canadians? If projects are not subject to rigorous review grounded in transparency and cross examination and especially if these projects have impacts lasting decades if effects all Canadians. A lack of due process is a threat to all Canadians. Political parties are governed by election cycles and not by long term public policy and what is good for the long term success of the country. These long term outcomes include moving the country to a sustainable economy to match its trading partners' commitments.

The proper focus should remain on this project however. A project that does not address First Nations historical claims to their territories and adequately mitigate to eliminate those concerns is a problem. A project with dubious economic benefits due to an excess supply of crude oil on international markets is also not in the public interest as well. This is the wrong project for a country that claims to be committed to moving towards a low carbon economy. A price on carbon does not address the numerous impacts of this project. The only solution is a renewed regulatory process that addresses those impacts. A decision in December should be based on science, economics, sound public policy and transparency and not on short term political tactics.

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