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A ship receives its load of oil from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project's Westeridge loading dock in Burnaby, British Columbia, on June 4, 2015. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A ship receives its load of oil from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project's Westeridge loading dock in Burnaby, British Columbia, on June 4, 2015. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Panel reviewing Trans Mountain pipeline poses troubling questions for cabinet Add to ...

The ministerial panel appointed by the federal government to review the National Energy Board’s appraisal of the Trans Mountain pipeline proposal concluded its report last week without any recommendations.

Instead, the panel posed six troubling questions for the cabinet to consider before it rules on the controversial pipeline next month.

Ottawa had not wanted any recommendations from the panel, but rather sought a broad report that would allow the government to make its own unencumbered decision.

That might seem like a smart, keep-the-options-open approach by Ottawa, but to many on the West Coast, it looks like political manoeuvring by a government bent on approval.

Read more: As pipeline expansion decision looms, Trudeau will roll out B.C. environmental protection regime (subscribers)

Read more: Ottawa won't require First Nations' consent for Trans Mountain decision

Read more: New pipelines? The oil sands may have trouble filling the ones it has

However, the panel report did not let the government completely off the hook, because it made clear just how profoundly important the questions being posed are to British Columbians.

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approves the pipeline without providing adequate answers, he will only inflame opponents who are already anticipating bad news from Ottawa.

Greenpeace is organizing a civil disobedience workshop in Vancouver on Nov. 12, and the weekend after that, a protest march is planned.

“Twenty-one municipalities, 61 First Nations, 210,000 petition signers (so far) and 91% presenters at this summer’s public meetings [by the ministerial panel] on Kinder Morgan oppose this reckless pipeline and tanker project,” an organizing protest group, FortheCoast, said in a recent press release. “On November 19th, a rally and march is expected to draw thousands, marching from City Hall across the Cambie Bridge and culminating in a pledge to resist the pipeline with civil disobedience if necessary.”

The pipeline is being opposed for a number of reasons, but foremost is the concern that if it goes ahead, it will promote oil sands development for 50 more years, dooming any attempts in Canada to meaningfully tackle climate change.

The first question posed by the panel is this: “Can construction of a new Trans Mountain pipeline be reconciled with Canada’s climate change commitments?”

The federal government clearly thinks it can. The panel report notes that Mr. Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley both say Canada has to transition slowly away from fossil fuels.

“We need to make smart strategic investments in clean growth and new infrastructure, but we must also continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition,” the report quotes the Prime Minister as saying.

But if Mr. Trudeau thinks that answer will wash with critics of the pipeline, he is wrong. The panel’s report makes the depth of public concerns clear, quoting an unnamed woman as testifying at the hearings on how “deeply hopeless about the future” her daughters feel because of climate change.

“She said: ‘It’s hard to hear that I will never have grandchildren.’ She then went on to condemn the Trans Mountain proposal as the kind of ‘tipping-point project’ that cannot be allowed if Canadians hope to slow the advance of climate change. And the crowd cheered,” the report says.

The panel also notes that Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and current Governor of the Bank of England, “said the world cannot safely – or profitably – continue to exploit fossil fuels.”

From the angry mother to the head of the Bank of England – that’s quite a gamut of opposition to try to counter with sunny ways.

Among other things, the panel also asked how the government can effectively assess projects such as the pipeline in the absence of a comprehensive national energy strategy, how it can grant approval while meeting its commitment to reconciliation with First Nations, and how it can be confident of its assessment, given the many perceived flaws of the NEB process.

Mr. Trudeau hasn’t answered those difficult questions yet. And critics of the pipeline apparently don’t expect him to, at least not convincingly. They know that the government cannot justify to them a decision based on a process they don’t trust, to override the rights of First Nations and to proceed with a project that can only exacerbate climate change.

So they are preparing for battle now. The only question they think needs answering is: How can we save the planet?

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