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KNOX – Politicians ignored views of West Coast on Trans Mountain

THE TRANS MOUNTAIN pipeline project wasn’t halted because it’s a bad idea. It got derailed because its approval was a railroad job, with we on the West Coast the damsel in distress lashed to the rails.

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that the National Energy Board’s approval process for the project was so flawed — not adequately consulting Indigenous people or taking the impact of increased oil tanker traffic into account — that the project shouldn’t have been approved by Justin Trudeau’s cabinet in 2016.

Trudeau must wear this mess now, but the roots of the ruling go back to the hubris of the Harper Conservatives. They argued that adding pipeline capacity was vital to the national economy, which might indeed be true, but so certain were they in their belief that they made damn sure nothing was going to get in the way, dispensing with dissenting views while steamrollering ahead with both the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain expansion projects. (Basically, it’s the same argument being flung at Lisa Helps over relocation of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue.) Trudeau might have put the final bullet in Northern Gateway (whose approval was also tripped up by the federal appeal court) in 2016, but did nothing to fix the Trans Mountain process.

Neither Alberta nor Ottawa ever understood the true nature of opposition to the pipeline on the coast. They dismissed it as either cynical extortion by a B.C. government holding out for a cut of the petro-profits, or woolly headed hypocrisy by people who moaned about fossil fuels while driving gas-powered cars and heating their homes with oil. They thought the usual collection of indolent bongo-beaters and wild-eyed ideologues who protested against the project were representative of the opposition to the pipeline, when they were not.

Nor was it a matter of Indigenous versus non-Indigenous interests, as the over-simplified version of the story would have it. Thursday’s court decision might have been right in saying the views of First Nations were not adequately considered, but defining what actual, representative consultation looks like isn’t as easy as some assume it to be.

Indigenous people from Esquimalt to Edmonton don’t speak with one voice any more than non-Indigenous people do. (The activists and industry leaders who claim to defend Indigenous rights tend to cherry pick which First Nations they support, siding with those whose positions align with their own; Indigenous people must tire of being used as human shields.)

If there is a real split, it’s along geographical lines. Polls might show British Columbians divided over the Trans Mountain expansion, with a slim but growing majority now favouring the project, but the same polls also show the strongest opposition to be on the coast, where views are shaped by the spectre of an ocean-going tanker spilling diluted bitumen.

You can argue about whether or not those fears are well founded, but they are deeply felt nonetheless. By not even considering what was to West Coasters the most important issue in the debate, the safety of the coast itself, the politicians and regulators blew it.

Again, this goes back to the Harper regime, which labelled pipeline opponents as extremists and generally treated all dissenters as kooks.

Trudeau tried to shine his sunny ways on the conflict when he took over, coming up with a three-legged stool of an approach in which he insisted each leg — the pipeline, a $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, and carbon pricing — was essential. Basically, he tried to give all the players — the oil industry and its workers, nervous West Coasters, climate-change activists — something they wanted.

The irony is that Thursday’s halting of Trans Mountain construction also means work on six oil-spill response bases — a key component of the Oceans Protection Plan — has also been back-burnered. The bases, run by the industry-funded Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, were supposed to include four on Vancouver Island: on the Saanich Peninsula, at Becher Bay, in Nanaimo and a joint one for Port Alberni-Ucluelet. The corporation said Thursday that leases have been signed for Port Alberni, Nanaimo and in Vancouver Harbour and on the Fraser River, but construction has not started.

This is what happens when you’re so convinced you’re right that you don’t listen to others.

Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.

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About Mel Rothenburger (6244 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

7 Comments on KNOX – Politicians ignored views of West Coast on Trans Mountain

  1. Harper filled the NEB with big oil CEO’s, and Trudeau did nothing to fix that. This isn’t oil as people understand it, it’s dirty sludge, thinned with highly toxic chemicals to make it flow, that cannot be cleaned up in the traditional manner. Canada needs to start refining this crud onshore instead of shipping it overseas, then buying back the finished product. In fact, Canada has to stop paying big corporations to take our resources, it’s a no win situation for everyone.

  2. So what is proper consultation? Anyone know the answer because the appeal courts do not or otherwise are unwilling to tell us. This is not the first time they have made this type of ruling. To what standard of consultation are they looking for. Even they cannot tell you.

    • perhaps you should read the united nations declaration on the rights of indiginous people ..Also the five other major supreme court of canada rulings that tell the country whats fair and honest.Now!! even you should be able to figure it out

  3. Ken McClelland // September 2, 2018 at 7:39 AM // Reply

    The anti-pipeline protesters are dupes, funded by American groups (Tides, Koch Brothers, etc) that have zero interest in the environment, but a great deal of interest in making money.

    We do not currently have reasonable access to world markets with our oil. The Americans like it that way, buying our oil at a steep discount while they sell their oil at world prices. Our stunned federal government seems unable to grasp this relatively simple concept, costing us $40 million a day in lost revenue by some calculations, while racking up deficits of something like $60 million a day. They are full of virtue though, and remind us of that at every opportunity, as if virtue will pay the bills. We are headed down a socialist rabbit hole, with redistribution of wealth the ultimate goal. There is no plan to create any more wealth, only to redistribute current wealth. Read the info on a form of government described as Ineptocracy for more info on what that looks like.

    • tony brumell // September 2, 2018 at 9:45 PM // Reply

      I’m not funded by anyone . You right wingers have lost all sense of fair play and would let gov’t do anything it wants using any meathods they want.
      Just take a look at the tactics used by gov’t and BC Hydro in getting Site C approved. The appeal court decision will be the same and site C is dead.As it should be.

  4. The thoughtful comments of both Mel and Jack Knox are often cut from the same cloth. ‘Politicians Ignore Views of West Coast is another excellent insightful appreciated article!
    (there must have been something in the Kamloops water?)

  5. Ian MacKenzie // September 2, 2018 at 7:23 AM // Reply

    As Jack says, Trudeau will have to wear it now. Unfortunately that’s only from a political point of view because should he prove as inflexible despite the Appeal Courts findings as he has in the past we’ll all be wearing this debacle for generations to come from economic and environmental points of view.

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