South Okanagan leaders react to pipeline approval

MP Richard Cannings and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip weigh in on Kinder Morgan pipeline approval

The 249-metre Everest Spirit makes its way to the Second Narrows Bridge in Burrard Inlet

The 249-metre Everest Spirit makes its way to the Second Narrows Bridge in Burrard Inlet

The Trudeau government has approved one controversial B.C. oil pipeline to the Pacific and rejected the second.

The federal cabinet today agreed to accept Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin the 63-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline to Burnaby, and rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil pipeline across northern B.C. to Kitimat.

Richard Cannings, NDP MP for the South Okanagan West Kootenay riding and vice chair of the Natural Resources Committee, said last week that the process leading up to the decision was flawed.

“The process was so flawed, it was a bit of a joke,” said Cannings, who cited concerns over hearings not being recorded and environmental experts not being allowed to cross-examine industry witnesses they felt were misleading.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, is a prominent figure among those opposing the pipeline. He said he was deeply disappointed, but not surprised by the decision, concerned the pipeline approval was in trade for Alberta’s support for a national carbon tax.

“We were sold out,” said Phillip. “Trudeau supported Premier Rachel Notley’s agenda at the expense of B.C.’s environmental issues and values.”

Read more: Grand Chief arrested at Burnaby protest

The Grand Chief was attending a special conference on climate change in Winnipeg at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs when the announcement was made. He noted that part of the assembly was signing ceremony for the treaty alliance opposing further tar sands development.

“We have now over 100 First Nations communities from B.C., Manitoba and Quebec who have signed off on this treaty,” said Phillip. “The real battle begins tomorrow morning.”

Phillip said there is strong opposition to the pipelines, which is not limited to First Nations communities but spread throughout the province. That opposition isn’t going away now that a decisions has been made.

“If I thought this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast I would reject it,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Ottawa. “This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and on evidence. We have not been and will not be swayed by political arguments, be they local, regional or national.”

Cannings said the Liberals weren’t following through on a promise to properly re-evaluate the pipeline proposals.

“They promised the people of B.C. that Kinder Morgan would be assessed under a new process, because Harper’s process was so seriously flawed, and yet, they didn’t do that,” said Cannings.

“It is a clear broken promise. There are people with real concerns. The promise was that they would redo this process, but they didn’t.”

Trudeau said the decision complements the federal decision, supported by Alberta, to put a national price on carbon to help meet Canada’s international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He also said more pipeline capacity is needed to keep oil from travelling by rail across the country, at greater risk to communities.

“We have made this decision because it is safe for B.C. and it is the right one for Canada.”

Kinder Morgan’s $6.8-billion project would result in a seven-fold increase in tankers running through Vancouver harbour, carrying much more diluted bitumen than in the past.

Trudeau noted it’s the twinning of an existing pipeline that has been in operation since 1953.

In contrast, Northern Gateway would have been an all-new pipeline.

It’s the final nail in the coffin for the Enbridge project, that was widely considered dead in the face of widespread opposition from northwestern B.C. First Nations as well as the B.C. government.

Trudeau said the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline and the Douglas Channel is no place for oil tanker traffic.

Enbridge’s $7.9-billion proposal, which had been in the works since 2005, had been conditionally approved by the former Conservative government in 2014, but that green light was overturned by a federal court ruling that the new Liberal government had already decided not to appeal.

The court had found Ottawa failed to meaningfully consult affected First Nations along the 1,177-kilometre route before approving the project. Trudeau said the Liberal government will also fulfill a campaign promise to legislate a moratorium on crude oil tanker shipments on B.C.’s north coast. The Kinder Morgan approval sets the stage for a massive confrontation with environmentalists in B.C. Protesters have already been staging rallies and making preparations for what some believe will be a huge battle, perhaps rivalling the ongoing violent standoff over a pipeline project in North Dakota.

The expansion would triple Trans Mountain capacity to 890,000 barrels per day and result in a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet to about 35 a month, which opponents say would greatly increase the risk of an impossible-to-clean spill of diluted bitumen.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he’s “profoundly disappointed” with the decision, calling it a “big step backwards for Canada’s environment and  economy.”

Environmental groups aim to block any new pipeline to keep Alberta oil from being burned and contributing to climate change, and they were quick to slam the decision, calling it a “betrayal of promises.”

“Canadians — and especially British Columbians have said loud and clear that we don’t want this reckless pipeline coming anywhere near the Pacific coast,” Peter McCartney, Wilderness Committee climate campaigner, said in a statement. “To ignore the deeply held views of the vast majority of people who live on this coast is outrageous.”

McCartney said the tanker ban acknowledges that tankers pose an “enormous” threat to the coast. “If Justin Trudeau agrees that the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline, he can’t possibly think that the Salish Sea is better.”

McCartney said more court cases against the projects are expected, and the decision is sure to be an issue in next spring’s provincial election. The cabinet decision follows a ministerial panel review that earlier this fall flagged a series of unresolved questions over the project. Those included whether the pipeline expansion can be reconciled with the Liberal government’s new climate change commitments, as well as aboriginal rights, particularly in light of Ottawa’s embrace of a UN declaration of  indigenous rights.

That panel and other politicians have also urged Ottawa to consider forcing the pipeline’s new twin to bend south to a new terminal, at either Deltaport or Cherry Point in Washington State, to avert an increase in tankers through Burrard Inlet and minimize on-the-ground opposition in Burnaby.

The B.C. government has said the Trans Mountain proposal does not yet meet its five conditions for any new heavy oil pipeline. Environment Minister Mary Polak said in a statement the province will continue to work to ensure those conditions are met. She said Ottawa’s recent Oceans Protection Plan has gone further to address B.C.’s requirement for world-leading marine spill prevention and response. Polak said the project has been under review for several months by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, which is soon to report.

“I have every confidence in B.C.’s environmental assessment process.”

Trans Mountain is also subject to 157 binding conditions set out by the National Energy Board. The Trudeau government also today approved the Line 3 pipeline upgrade by Enbridge from Alberta to Wisconsin. That $7.5-billion project will increase oil exports from 390,000 to 760,000 barrels per day and could be expanded further to 915,000 barrels.