By Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun, April 20, 2012
Hearings assessing the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project and legislative changes planned in Ottawa compromise the province’s sovereignty and threaten its authority to defend British Columbians’ interests, warns a letter from Robyn Allan, the former president of ICBC, to Premier Christy Clark and other leading provincial politicians.
The planned pipeline would carry 190 million barrels of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to Kitimat each year. Tankers the size of three football fields would then move the bitumen through the Inside Passage to upgraders in China. Another proposed pipeline expansion by Kinder Morgan would more than triple capacity to move oil from Alberta to a tanker terminal in Burnaby from 100 million to more than 300 million barrels per year.
Potential environmental risks, first nations issues and municipal government objections have been a major source of controversy in both the public and political discussion of the Northern Gateway project. Clark has said the province won’t take a position until the environmental assessment and economic review process are complete. The mayors of Burnaby and Vancouver have both vowed opposition to the Kinder Morgan proposal.
Allan, an economist who has been analyzing the Enbridge proposal, says that an agreement quietly signed by the provincial government under former premier Gordon Campbell on June 21, 2010, relinquished the province’s right to its own environmental assessment process for major resource projects and instead accepted the federal NEB’s findings as an equivalent.
The assessment now underway combines the NEB review and the federal ministry of environment’s review under what’s known as the Joint Review Panel.
Allan says the B.C. government made its equivalency agreement in the belief that the NEB review would provide a neutral, objective, arm’s length assessment.
But since then, she says, the process has been compromised, the federal government has unilaterally moved to change the rules and B.C.’s sovereignty is now threatened with subordination to the interests of Alberta and Ottawa while input from provincial departments has effectively been muzzled.
“The federal government, as I am sure you are aware, has publicly endorsed the project, stated it is in the national interest of Canada, and has systematically demonized individuals and groups who oppose the project,” Allan writes. “This behaviour has made a travesty of the necessary arm’s length relationship between government and an independent regulatory body.
“As long as there was some sense that the Joint Review Panel was independent and had the authority to reject the proposal regardless of the political pressure imposed by the Prime Minister’s Office, a semblance of due process was maintained. That necessary condition was violated when federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver unveiled proposed legislation on April 17, 2012.
“The federal government now intends to further weaken environmental protection and favour large oil companies operating, primarily, in Alberta. This has betrayed any remaining trust in federal energy decisions as they relate to the province of British Columbia.”
Allan writes that instead of an arm’s length regulatory decision by an independent review panel deciding the outcome, the new legislation would arrogate that power to the federal cabinet, making it a purely political decision.
This would mean that under the 2010 agreement as it stands, the province would simply adopt a federal cabinet decision which may be in the best interests of Alberta, where the prime minister has his power base, but may not necessarily be in the public interest for B.C. and might even be counter to the will of a majority of British Columbians.
Allan advises the premier, however, that under the equivalency agreement there is a clause which empowers the province to terminate the arrangement with 30 days written notice.
“This action will ensure that the public interest of the people of B.C. will be protected and will not be severely curtailed by the actions of the Government of Canada favouring primarily Alberta’s oil producers,” Allan writes.
Readers interested in Allan’s full letter to the premier and links to the relevant documents can find them on her blog at www.robynallan.com.
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