BURNABY, B.C. - First Nations and environmentalists had one question for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the start of National Energy Board hearings on the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
"You said no. Where are you?" asked Audrey Siegl of the Musqueam Indian Band, to a cheer from a crowd of protesters gathered outside a Burnaby, B.C., hotel on Tuesday.
"Stand with us if you're going to stand with us. We need more than just words."
Trudeau promised on the campaign trail in June to engage in a "new open process" for all pipelines. He said in August that would apply to existing pipelines and that the Trans Mountain process "needs to be redone."
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has said the government will soon announce changes to the pipeline approval process. But he said the plan will include a transition period for projects currently under review and no proponent will be asked to return to square one.
As hearings began on Kinder Morgan's US$5.4 billion proposal to triple the capacity of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline, activists urged Trudeau to immediately halt the review and implement the changes.
"After 10 years of the long, dark night of the Harper regime, for the first time there was reason to hope for change," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
"We call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow through on those promises."
The hearings will last for 10 days in B.C. and will wrap up in Calgary next month. Municipalities, environmental groups, First Nations and residents who live along the pipeline route will deliver final arguments.
The energy board streamlined the review process to meet time limits set by the previous Conservative government. The changes mean interveners are not allowed to cross-examine Kinder Morgan representatives and instead they had to send in written questions. The company answered a portion of those questions.
Karen Campbell, a lawyer with Ecojustice, said the "incredibly broken" process does not consider the potential impacts of the project on climate change.
Two First Nations announced Tuesday they were dropping out of the review. The Neskonlith Indian Band and the Lower Nicola Indian Band had been scheduled to present arguments but said they would not attend.
"We're not going to take part in a process that has a predetermined outcome," said Chief Aaron Sam of the Lower Nicola Indian Band.
National Energy Board spokeswoman Tara O'Donovan said the written question-and-answer process was determined to be the best way for participants to review and test the evidence.
She added that upstream and downstream impacts of projects — including climate change — were outside the scope of the board's legislated mandate.
"The NEB's hearing process is fair and it's no less rigorous in this process than it has been in the past."
The cities of Surrey and New Westminster, Musqueam Indian Band and ocean scientist David Farmer delivered arguments to the three-member panel on Tuesday.
Anthony Capuccinello, representing Surrey, criticized the energy board for "falling asleep at the wheel."
"You have heard, through the submissions and argument of Trans Mountain, a story — a story applauding the expertise of the board's advisers, a story full of self-serving statements expressing how fair this process has been," Capuccinello said.
"Sadly, that story is a fiction."
He said Kinder Morgan should compensate his city, 45 kilometres east of Vancouver, for the costs associated with the existing pipeline.
James Reynolds, representing the Musqueam Indian Band, said the NEB should dismiss the project because the Crown has failed to fulfil its duty to consult with the Vancouver First Nation.
The band's traditional territories include Burrard Inlet and the south shore of the Fraser River and the project will significantly infringe their right to fish, he said.
The board is set to inform the federal cabinet in May whether it approves the project. Cabinet will then have three months to make its decision.