With the declared cost of completing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion up to C$9.3 billion—a $1.9 billion escalation from Kinder Morgan’s previous estimate—it’s time for Ottawa to step away from a project that has been “shrouded in secrecy” and runs counter to the government’s own policy commitments, states an opinion piece published just a day before yesterday’s blockbuster ruling by the Federal Court of Appeals.
“Now would seem the time for robust democratic debate about Trans Mountain,” write Sarah Mason-Case of Osgoode Hall Law School, Catherine Potvin of McGill University, and Catriona Sandilands of York University, citing an August 28 open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all MPs from 189 academic experts.
But “rather than disclose the full repercussions of the purchase in an open and transparent manner, the federal government has left the public to learn the details of the pipeline and its purchase—including the current process of purchase approval—through news outlets, shareholder disclosures, court documents, and other indirect means,” they state. “Indeed, a lack of transparency and resistance to debate have been hallmarks of the whole approval and purchase process.”
Only about half of the more than 100 First Nations along the pipeline route have signed mutual benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan, the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations “are actively leading campaigns against the project,” and “the Secwepemcul’ecw Assembly asserts that its jurisdiction must not be violated, in opposition to some individual bands operating within the same territory who have consented to the pipeline expansion,” the three academics write. “These examples illustrate the highly sensitive relationships at stake.”
But the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “does not support a piecemeal approach,” they stress. “It requires the free, prior and informed consent of all Indigenous peoples, which in this case has not been obtained.” Leading up to yesterday’s court decision, the project faced multiple challenges from several other First Nations, non-government organizations, municipalities—and the British Columbia government, which is still seeking a court reference on its jurisdiction to regulate the project.
“Taken together, the civil protests, litigation, and other demonstrations highlight unpredictability and inconsistencies in our system of governance with which persons across Canada should be concerned,” Mason-Case, Potvin, and Sandilands assert. While reforms to federal impact assessment and project approval processes make their way through Parliament, driven by a government elected on promises of public accountability and Indigenous reconciliation, “the Trans Mountain project is being governed behind closed doors without information sharing or venues for public debate,” raising concerns about “the ability of the residents of this place to have a say in the governance of our shared territory.”