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opinion

Leah George Wilson is the Chief of Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

On Tuesday, the federal cabinet is due to make another decision on whether to approve the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline and tanker project, following the Federal Court of Appeal’s quashing of the previous approval. Due to numerous significant issues that have not yet been addressed, Tsleil-Waututh Nation does not consent to the project.

Tsleil-Waututh means “People of the Inlet.” We are a progressive Coast Salish First Nation based along the shores of Burrard Inlet in Metro Vancouver, where the proposed project would end. The health and well-being of Burrard Inlet is integral to the health and well-being of our people, our economy and indeed, who we are as a people.

Over the past several years, Tsleil-Waututh has participated in good faith in every process regarding the project, including two flawed National Energy Board (NEB) hearings, two rounds of federal consultation, and a historic case at the Federal Court of Appeal. Tsleil-Waututh also conducted our own impact assessment using world-leading science and grounded in our own Indigenous laws. After careful review, the risks the Trans Mountain pipeline pose remain too great for Tsleil-Waututh to accept. Tsleil-Waututh cannot consent to this project.

Our expert reports demonstrate that an oil spill is inevitable and cannot be effectively cleaned up. A major spill would be catastrophic for the local ecosystems, including that of the southern resident killer whale and for the health of the people who live around Burrard Inlet.

Unlike the federal government, Tsleil-Waututh updated our economic analysis since the Federal Court of Appeal decision, and it demonstrates the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is uneconomic. Our independent cost/benefit analysis of the project, consistent with Ottawa’s benefit/cost guidelines, found the government-owned Trans Mountain Expansion Project results in a loss to Canadian taxpayers of $11.8-billion, and that there is no likely scenario under which the project would generate a net benefit to Canada.

This is because the economic landscape has changed substantially since the NEB issued its first report regarding the project in 2016. Recently, the Bank of Canada issued a financial system review that warned about stranded assets in the oil and gas sector due to climate-related risk.

Our analysis confirms that the pipeline is not in the public interest, nor can it justify the economic burdens the pipeline would pose. We have shared this information with the federal government, who continue to rely on outdated economic information.

Tsleil-Waututh is not anti-development. Indeed, we support sustainable and responsible economic activity, and have our own real estate, ecotourism, and commercial fishing and forestry businesses. All of these are at put at risk by the Trans Mountain Project.

For decades, Tsleil-Waututh has been working hard to restore the health of the Inlet so that future generations can thrive. We do this work not only for our own First Nation, but for our neighbouring communities and all generations to come. While many consider Burrard Inlet to be an industrialized area, we are achieving success through ecological restoration initiatives, often in partnership with neighbouring communities. Two years ago, Tsleil-Waututh conducted our first shellfish harvest since 1972. This year, we have seen the return of killer whales and the first herring eggs since the 1880s. The health of the ecosystem is returning, and with it, the health of our people.

Should this project move ahead, it would jeopardize all that we have worked for, including our Indigenous rights and deep cultural connections to the Inlet.

I believe that if cabinet undertook a meaningful review, one that re-examined the underlying business case that has fundamentally changed since 2012, one that took time to fully understand the probability and risk of oil spills, and one that looked at the full climate impacts of this project, the only answer would be no. The Federal Court of Appeal required cabinet to make a new, fresh decision. But they are doing it with stale evidence.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation does not want to find ourselves back in the same position we were in in 2017. However, given what is at stake, Tsleil-Waututh is prepared to use all legal tools necessary to ensure that our rights are protected for our future generations. Our obligation is not to oil. Our obligation is to our land, our water, our people, our future. This project represents a risk that we cannot take.

Tsleil-Waututh maintains that Canada cannot approve this project. This pipeline is uneconomic, it is not in the public interest and its risks are simply too great to accept.

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