By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on October 11, 2018.
The Trudeau government, as usual, is under fire from all sides in its attempt to get the Trans Mountain pipeline back on track.
Those who support the expanded oil pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast at Burnaby, B.C., are not at all happy that the government’s reopened consultation process is open-ended. And those who oppose the pipeline are equally unhappy that Ottawa has said this new process does not give Indigenous peoples the right to veto the project.
Nothing about this has ever been easy. The Liberal government has already spent years – not to mention plenty of political capital and $4.5 billion of our tax money to outright buy the pipeline – trying to find a way to balance the national and economic interests with Indigenous and environmental concerns.
Ottawa’s latest move, driven by the Federal Court of Appeal decision in August to quash approvals for the project, is the best option it has left.
The government could have appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, as Alberta Premier Rachel Notley had urged, but that outcome would be far from certain and could have left the project in limbo for years to come. Appointing former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee an additional round of consultations to properly deal with the court’s concerns is a far better way forward.
The government is acting in good faith by not establishing a set end-date at the outset of the process. That’s especially important given Ottawa finds itself in this situation only because the court determined that its previous efforts were so inadequate.
Canada, the court ruled, failed to “engage, dialogue meaningfully and grapple with the real concerns of the Indigenous applicants so as to explore possible accommodation of those concerns.”
But it does not follow from that, as some critics have suggested, that this process can be considered legitimate only if it gives Indigenous peoples a complete veto on the project.
The new consultation also need not be an endless process in which opponents re-fight every element of the expansion proposal. The court was specific on where the government failed – Indigenous consultation and assessing the impact of increased tanker traffic off the B.C. coast – and what it must do to remedy those failures.
And it’s instructive to recall that the court said the concerns of the Indigenous applicants were “specific and focused,” and that a revised process may be “brief and efficient while ensuring it is meaningful.”
This consultation, then, should be seen as an opportunity to address as many concerns as possible rather than as a vehicle to indefinitely delay or scuttle Trans Mountain.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi was explicit on this point. Those who oppose the pipeline have a perfect right to do so, he noted. “But that does not mean that if we fulfil our constitutional obligation to consult, that those groups may have a veto.”
The court also ruled the government was wrong to exclude the expansion of marine shipping and its effect on the resident orca whale population from the National Energy Board’s assessment of the pipeline expansion.
To address that, Ottawa has instructed the agency to revisit its recommendation of the project and take into account the impact of the increased tanker traffic that will come with nearly tripling the pipeline’s capacity.
Despite all the challenges, the pipeline is still the safest route from the oilsands to the sea. It would run along the path of an existing, decades-old line. And it would provide access for Alberta oil to Asian markets, bringing in higher world prices and additional revenue for governments.
Now, more than ever, Canada should not want to remain reliant on sending oil, at a vastly discounted price, to the United States alone. If there’s one obvious lesson from the painful renegotiation of NAFTA, it’s that Canada must diversify its trade and do all it can to be less dependent on the U.S. market.
Trans Mountain will always draw diametrically opposed groups – those who want the pipeline, the faster the better, and those who want it stopped in its tracks. By opting for a process that gives in to neither group, the government has picked the best of its options.
Editorial from the Toronto Star
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