Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced Wednesday that the Canadian government won’t appeal the late August Federal Court of Appeal ruling that suspended federal approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and appointed retired Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci to run a new pipeline consultation with Indigenous communities.
“We’re going to take our time to get this right,” Sohi said, adding that the consultations would proceed in a “focused and efficient manner,” CBC reports. He said Ottawa would approach the consultations with an “open mind” and without a “stop clock” or time limit, in order to uphold the federal responsibility for meaningful consultations with Indigenous people.
“We also understand there will be groups who will still oppose this project. That’s fine, because that’s their right to do so,” Sohi said. “But that doesn’t mean if we fulfill our constitutional obligation that those groups may have a veto to stop this project.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “said that relinquishing an appeal will expedite construction,” CBC adds, leading some observers to ask how the government can hold “meaningful” or open-minded consultations when the outcome as already been decided. “We feel that the blueprint the court laid out for TMX will allow us to get things done quicker and get our resources to new markets other than the U.S. in a more rapid fashion,” Trudeau said.
While Trudeau said the decision not to appeal the court decision would expedite the project approval process, Alberta Prime Minister Rachel Notley took aim at the “jaw-dropping hypocrisy” in the treatment Trans Mountain is receiving. “As far as I’m concerned, their job is to keep all options open,” she said. “Or, to put it another way, you don’t lock up your toolbox when you haven’t finished the job. And the job’s not finished yet.”
At the same time, she acknowledged that Indigenous consultations might delay the start of pipeline construction beyond next summer. “I’d like to see construction resume next year at some point,” she said in Edmonton. “But at the end of the day, we know that the constitutional obligation to consult with Indigenous people is such that it must be defined by the consultations. It cannot be defined by an arbitrary timeline.”
Notley contrasted the steps the pipeline is going through with the much easier ride the LNG Canada consortium has received for its C$40-billion liquefied natural gas megaproject in British Columbia. “I think Albertans can be forgiven for being extremely frustrated with the way the federation is working right now,” she said. “Because there is a high level of jaw-dropping hypocrisy that is being demonstrated through that process.”
Meanwhile, in a new audit tabled in the House of Commons Tuesday, federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand says the federal government has failed to protect coastal marine mammals from the hazards posed by ship traffic and fishing, including oil spills and chronic underwater noise, and is only now beginning to take action. The audit period ran from January 1, 2012 to June 1, 2018.
The review found that “the government did not use the tools available to enact fishing and shipping regulations that would have afforded orcas, right whales, and other animals the support and protection they need to survive,” iPolitics reports [subs req’d]. “It took the death of 12 North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the summer of 2017 due to entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes—representing 3% of the world’s population of the endangered whale—for the government to be shamed into action.”
While Ottawa has had the tools to take action for more than a decade, Gelfand told media, “we found most of these tools were not used until the situation became severe.”