Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the federal government holds the constitutional power to force through the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline but that doing so would follow the “misguided position of the Conservatives.”
The comments, released Tuesday in a 2015 letter submitted by Wilson-Raybould to the democracy advocacy organization, Dogwood Initiative, comes as Canadians await the federal government’s decision on the Trans Mountain and other pipelines expected this afternoon.
In her letter Wilson-Raybould argues Canada needs “greater citizen engagement in decision making.”
“In some ways Kinder Morgan is more complicated than Northern Gateway as it is a proposed expansion of an existing line,” Wilson-Raybould wrote. “I wonder if the Trans Mountain pipeline would ever have been approved in the first place if it was being proposed today?”
The letter casts light on the federal government’s broken promises when it comes to public involvement in pipeline project decision-making. On the campaign trail Justin Trudeau promised to send the Trans Mountain pipeline project review back to the drawing board under a new and improved environmental assessment process.
Trudeau later backtracked, admitting Trans Mountain would not be required to undergo a more robust environmental review. A recent report from a three person ministerial panel tasked with assessing the review process found the pipeline should not be approved without serious consideration of the project's impacts on indigenous rights, Canada's climate committments and marine mammal safety. The Trans Mountain review process has been called “fatally flawed.”
Kai Nagata, communications director for Dogwood, said the letter highlights the government's departure from its election promises.
“I think this survey response highlights the gap between what people believed they were voting for and what they'll get if Kinder Morgan is approved,” Nagata told DeSmog Canada. “At Dogwood we put a lot of faith in our political representatives, and work hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. That's why we went to such great efforts to engage with candidates across the province last year, and that's why people will feel so deeply betrayed if this Texas tanker project is approved.”
Nagata added the pipeline's approval would put Wilson-Raybould in a difficult position.
“It certainly highlights the terrible position she'll be in as a B.C. MP, as an Indigenous lawyer and longtime advocate for First Nations rights — now forced to carry water for a government that clearly doesn't take those obligations seriously.”
“If Kinder Morgan is approved over the objections of 17 B.C. First Nations, on the basis of Harper's National Energy Board review, I don't know if Wilson-Raybould will be left with much chance but to resign. It's impossible to reconcile her election promises to constituents last year with what will unfold if Trudeau forces through an approval of Kinder Morgan.”
Prior to the last federal election, Trudeau stated only communities — and not governments — are capable of giving permission for pipeline projects.
In her letter, the Justice Minister reiterated the sentiment: “There is no longer one government or person that can legally or socially make the final decision on this, or any other pipeline.”
The full text of Wilson-Raybould’s letter can be read below:
The question, “Who should make the final decision on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion?” really speaks to our evolving system of multi-level governance in Canada and the need for greater citizen engagement in decision-making. In some ways Kinder Morgan is more complicated than Northern Gateway as it is a proposed expansion of an existing pipeline. I wonder if the Trans Mountain pipeline would ever have been approved in the first place if it was being proposed today?
To answer the question though, it can be argued the federal government is responsible for pipelines and could try and use its constitutional muscle to push it through in the “national interest.” This, I believe, is the misguided position of the Conservatives. In reality, as with Northern Gateway, this is not going to happen, as there is no longer one government or person that can legally or socially make the final decision on this, or any other pipeline.
In the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline it will have a significant impact on our quality of life and local economy. Like all of you reading this, I am concerned, as should be every resident of the Lower Mainland, that this proposal may be approved without proper consideration of the impacts on our land, our waters, and First Nations. Clearly, the recent protests on Burnaby Mountain underscore the difficulty the proponent will have in obtaining a social licence for this proposal. And the recent oil spill in English Bay reminded us of what can happen without solid environmental protections (please see my blog).
Justin and the Liberal party have made it very clear that all energy infrastructure projects must earn the trust of communities if they are to proceed, and that any and all projects must not place our lands, waterways, and ecosystems at risk.
Further, we believe in the need to respect Aboriginal title and rights, including treaty rights. In BC this is of particular importance where serious weight must be given to the issue of un-extinguished Aboriginal title and the requirement for “consent” if projects cross unceded Aboriginal title lands. This situation applies in both the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway.
The Liberal party understands that in order to properly assess the impact of proposed projects Canada needs open, clear and efficient processes that have reasonable, even-handed rules, clear beginning and ending points, so ultimately decisions can be relied on. We need to restore public trust around processes for approval for resource and industrial development projects.
Unfortunately, and due to Mr. Harper’s actions, we no longer have this in Canada. The Conservatives have eviscerated the environmental assessment process previous Liberal governments had brought into law. A Liberal government will launch an immediate, public review of Canada’s current environmental assessment processes, and based on this review, will replace Mr. Harper’s changes to the environmental assessment process, with a new, comprehensive, timely, and fair process.
For me this is incredibly important and necessary as we start to assess the impact of our actions and seriously address climate change.
Image: Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould via Flickr