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CANNINGS: Proper consultation is not an impossible task

Image Credit: Contributed
September 09, 2018 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Last Tuesday I was in Ottawa for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources in the wake of the Federal Court of Appeal decision that quashed the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion project.


The court quashed the approval based on two errors—the lack of consideration of marine transport issues and inadequate consultation with First Nations.  The NDP has been pointing out these failings for years, in fact we ran in the last election on a pledge to redo the Trans Mountain assessment under a better process—as did the Liberals.  We were criticized by some who claimed that starting over with a new assessment would set the project back by a year or even two.  Now here we are, three years later, back at square one.

The Conservatives spent much of the meeting blaming the Liberals for this mess, and the Liberals blamed the Conservatives.  They’re both right.

In their rush to get a number of pipeline projects done, the previous Conservative government gutted the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the environmental assessment process.  On their watch, the hearings into the Trans Mountain Project were widely criticized for being too narrow in scope and didn’t properly consult with First Nations.  The courts also quashed the approval of the Northern Gateway project for much the same reasons cited in this decision about Trans Mountain.  But the Liberals failed to fix these problems before approving the Trans Mountain expansion as they had promised in the election campaign.

One of the two critical errors the government made according to the court was the failure to properly consult First Nations. The consultation consisted of bureaucrats sent out to listen to First Nations concerns and relay those concerns to cabinet.  The bureaucrats were simply note-takers; there was no attempt made to address any of those concerns.  In fact, the consultation team and the government apparently mistakenly believed that they couldn’t add any more conditions on Kinder Morgan than the National Energy Board had done.  Why bother consulting if you can’t make changes?

One example of that failure is the concern of the Coldwater First Nation, who asked that the pipeline take an optional route to the west so that it avoided crossing their aquifer.  That’s a reasonable concern.  But there is no evidence that actually acting on that concern was ever considered.

The government knows what proper consultation is.  It’s not an impossible task.  It’s been done many times before.  It just requires more effort and a sincere effort to address concerns rather than just writing them down.

The other error the court pointed out was the failure to consider marine transportation in the Trans Mountain approval process.  One of the main concerns there is the status of the southern resident population of orcas, something we’ve heard about in the news recently.

This summer I heard that Washington State and Alaska are concerned that the Liberal’s Ocean Protection Plan does not measure up.  They would like Canada to join their system of tracking ships off the Pacific coast, a truly world class system that would be a proactive way of minimizing risk of collisions and spills.  This is the kind of thing we might have heard about had the Trans Mountain project included marine transport in its proceedings.

The NDP feels its time for a thorough and critical look at our energy strategy in Canada, time to invest boldly in the clean energy sector, build electric vehicle infrastructure and incentivize building retrofits.  This would provide good, long-lasting jobs in a sector that is the true future of the world energy market, jobs in every community across the country. We feel that purchasing old pipelines is not proper use of public funds.  Let’s invest in the future.

— Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay


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