First Nations and environmentalists called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop a National Energy Board review of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion as hearings on the proposal began Tuesday.
Opponents of Kinder Morgan's US$5.4 billion plan to triple the current capacity of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline held a rally outside the hearings in Burnaby, B.C. Speakers demanded Trudeau immediately stop the hearings and overhaul the review process.
"This is a fundamentally flawed process," said Carleen Thomas of North Vancouver's Tsleil-Waututh Nation. "The voices of Canadian citizens are not being respected or heard, and this is wrong."
The hearings will last for 10 days in B.C. and will wrap up in Calgary next month. Local municipalities, environmental groups, First Nations and residents who live along the pipeline are set to deliver final arguments.
The National Energy Board streamlined the review process to meet time limits set by the previous Conservative government. Interveners are not allowed to cross-examine Kinder Morgan representatives and instead had to send in written questions. The company answered a portion of those questions.
Karen Campbell, a lawyer with Ecojustice, said the process is "incredibly broken," noting that the review does not consider the potential impacts of the project on climate change.
"The federal government needs to step up and it needs to stop this flawed process right now," she said. "It's not too late."
Trudeau promised on the campaign trail in June to engage in a "new open process" for all pipelines and in August said it would apply to existing pipelines.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has also written Trudeau, asking him to put the review on hold while the government implements the promised changes.
Kai Nagata with environmental group Dogwood Initiative said if the process continues without changes, then the Liberal government will have broken its election promise.
"The clock is ticking," he said.
"There's an irony in letting this unfold while promising real change and promising to overhaul the process."
Karen Mahon of ForestEthics Advocacy said of the 55 interveners set to make arguments at the Burnaby hearings, 50 oppose the project.
The City of Surrey was the first to deliver arguments on Tuesday, with lawyer Anthony Capuccinello reiterating its opposition to the expansion.
The city, about 45 kilometres east of Vancouver, is asking the board to require Kinder Morgan to decommission and remove the portion of the current pipeline that runs through Surrey as a condition of any approval it grants.
"You have heard, through the submissions and argument of Trans Mountain, a story — a story applauding the expertise of the board's advisers, a story full of self-serving statements expressing how fair this process has been," Capuccinello told the three-member panel.
"Sadly, that story is a fiction. The City of Surrey's submissions and argument are based on facts — facts supported in evidence and facts supported by law."
Capuccinello criticized the energy board's advisers for "falling asleep at the wheel," saying their lack of expertise is clear from the draft conditions the board submitted for comment.
He also expressed concerns about the ability of municipalities to cover expenses and be reimbursed for any additional costs they incur as a result of the expansion.
The B.C. government announced last week it could not support the project because of concerns about spill response and aboriginal support, while the Alberta government backed the project because of its economic benefits.