When it comes to looking at energy and infrastructure in Canada, it appears that almost everything is in transition.
Certainly, the oil industry is working through a time of dramatic change, adjusting to a lower-price environment and wrestling for greater access to world markets. The federal government, which is itself still new, has recently implemented a new Pipeline Safety Act and is in the process of reviewing everything from National Energy Board (NEB) regulations to environmental-protection legislation.
Last fall, the government also assumed a leadership position at the Paris climate-change conference, committing this country to a more ambitious program to reduce national (and global) emissions to a level that might limit the world's temperature increase to 1.5 C.
In the midst of these and other changes, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, Jim Carr, invited me to join a ministerial panel on the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline – along with University of Winnipeg President Annette Trimbee and Simon Fraser University adjunct professor and former Yukon premier Tony Penikett. At the time, Mr. Carr was anticipating an NEB report on the proposal to build a Trans Mountain pipeline designed to carry oil-sands bitumen to tidewater in Burnaby, B.C.
But there were concerns with the NEB review process. People were complaining that the NEB had chosen not to hear input from hundreds of would-be intervenors or to allow oral cross-examination of testimony. They also suggested that the process fell short of considering marine implications and expressed concern that it did not consider pipeline-related impacts on climate change. Of particular interest for me (as a former elected Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation) were complaints that the NEB did not adequately demonstrate its respect for First Nations rights and title, or to reconcile their legitimate interests.
The Government of Canada has since triggered three new processes and extended its decision-making time frame on the project by four months to allow their completion. It has empowered Environment and Climate Change Canada to report on upstream greenhouse-gas emissions generated in the production of bitumen destined for the pipeline. It has directed continuing and deeper consultations with First Nations. And it has created this panel, as Mr. Carr explained it to me, to seek answers to questions the NEB didn't ask and to hear input from those the NEB overlooked.
My colleague Dr. Trimbee calls us "the Omissions Panel." Since early July, we three have held meetings in Calgary, Edmonton and Jasper, in Kamloops, Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Langley, and, most recently, in Burnaby and Vancouver. More than 1,500 people have attended and listened as more than 450 presenters have expressed their views to the panel. I can't begin to do justice here to the number of issues that we have heard, but let me offer four themes, in no particular order.
One of these is impatience. Many presenters in industry, business and labour organizations have endorsed the NEB report and urged a quick and favourable decision. They say that without tidewater access for oil-sands bitumen, Canada is stuck taking a discounted price from our only buyers in the United States. They say we need the jobs and tax revenues this pipeline project would create.
The second theme is the reconciliation of First Nations rights and title. Even First Nations who support the project want their interests honoured more appropriately by the proponent and the Crown.
A third theme reflects those who do not necessarily oppose the project but worry about site-specific impacts or related policy. Some say we should refine oil-sands bitumen in Alberta rather than transport this product and export refining jobs. Many have urged different routes – for example to avoid drinking-water aquifers in the Fraser Valley or to avoid the Vancouver Harbour altogether.
Finally, there are those who reject the pipeline entirely, worrying about environmental risks and arguing that the project is inconsistent with Canadian commitments in the Paris climate accord.
There is, perhaps, a fifth theme. Given a reporting deadline on Nov. 1, the panel has been moving quickly – some say, too quickly. We also chose a more informal process than people expect from the federal government – a side effect of striving for openness.
But, again, that is our mandate: to hear the input that Canadians want to offer and to pass that to the government in a time of transition. We do so in hopes that our efforts will help inform a difficult decision.
I encourage all Canadians, and particularly those along the proposed pipeline and shipping route, to express their views to the ministerial panel. Canadians are invited to add their views to the more than 16,000 responses the panel has received to date through the online questionnaire. The questionnaire is available until Sept. 30 at http://mpmo.gc.ca/measures/270.
Kim Baird is chair, Ministerial Panel on the Proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. She is also the former chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation.