Martyn Brown: Grab your ankles, B.C.—Trudeau’s got Dominion

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      [An essay on why the Kinder Morgan project is not in Canada’s national interest]

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is moving forward on Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

      It is a threatened assault on British Columbia that assumes a forceful assertion of the federal government’s constitutional powers of dominion. One that is inherently abusive.

      It seems that Trudeau is now intent on ramming through that project that is provoking a constitutional crisis, a full-blown interprovincial trade-war, and an avoidable clash with Canada’s Indigenous people that could get very ugly, very quickly.

      All for a single oil pipeline project that should be rejected for so many reasons.

      A project that is rejected by the B.C. government, by its most directly impacted First Nations and by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, by its “host” communities, and by millions of Canadians.

      A project that was approved through a corrupt National Energy Board review process that Trudeau himself once denigrated and pledged to “redo” before making any decision. He vowed that “Kinder Morgan will have to go through a new, revised process,” but reneged on that commitment and instead fully embraced the NEB’s findings in approving that project.

      A project and NEB process that is now being challenged in 15 consolidated cases before the Federal Court of Appeal. Including by seven First Nations, two of B.C.’s largest cities, the Living Oceans Society, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the B.C. government.

      A project that threatens to destroy Vancouver’s “Greenest city” aspirations and international brand, and also seriously harm British Columbia’s “Super, Natural” tourism economy.

      A project that threatens B.C.’s world-renowned environment, which is so crucial to the estimated 320,000 people in Metro Vancouver working in tourism, technology, film, fishing, and other enterprises.

      A project that risks causing incalculable damage to some of the world’s most sensitive land and marine ecosystems, to say nothing of our atmosphere.

      By tripling the volume of unrefined, diluted tar-sands oil—or “bitumen”—that is piped from Alberta to Pacific tidewater.

      By pumping as much as 890,000 barrels per day of that stuff across 1,150 treacherous kilometres.

      By violating some 500 streams and rivers with new pipeline crossings, and compounding the existing risks of oil spills along that pipeline’s current path. Which the City of Vancouver revealed has already resulted in 81 reported oil spills since 1961, or on average, 1.53 spills per year. 

      By sticking an extra 3.9-million barrels of toxic tar sands oil in 14 new holding tanks, in Kinder Morgan’s expanded terminal, at the ocean’s edge in Burnaby.

      By adding another 408 supertankers, representing a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic—every year—that will transport their hazardous cargo across the Salish Sea, as depicted in this incredible info-graphic.

      By adding an estimated 13.5-million to 17-million tonnes of annual carbon emissions to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory—an impact the NEB review never even contemplated.

      By thereby making it even harder for Canada to honour its Paris Agreement commitment to cut its emissions by 30 percent by 2030, even with the higher national carbon taxes that would be needed to help offset that damage.

      By compounding the problem of global warming with an estimated 100 million tonnes of additional greenhouse gases—each year. Mostly to power Asia’s already polluted cities.

      By violating the federal government’s own espoused commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its basic tenet of “free, prior, and informed consent".

      All of that is justified by Justin Trudeau as being necessary in “the national interest”.

      For one $7.4-billion private project aimed primarily at commanding higher prices for Canada’s dirtiest oil and at yielding higher profits for some of the world’s wealthiest oil companies.

      Chief among them, Kinder Morgan, a multinational behemoth headquartered in Houston, Texas.

      For a single project that will mostly further pad Big Oil’s corporate pockets and will reward foreign investors and state-owned enterprises.

      All for the construction of a new heavy oil pipeline that will mostly create temporary jobs and that would only yield a total of 90 permanent operating jobs in B.C. and Alberta, according to Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC’s estimate. 

      Incredibly, all in the name of “sustainable development”.

      All to double an existing artery. To triple its capacity for exporting Canada’s filthiest oil. Without even first refining that gunk in Canada to maximize its value, or to minimize the environmental damage of its inevitable spills, which are a mathematic certainty.


      Super Natural tourism, not to mention fisheries and other industries, would be severely impacted by an oil spill anywhere near where resident orcas frolic in Juan de Fuca Strait.
      Mark Malleson/iStock/Getty Images

      Even more astounding is how Trudeau is being baited by Big Oil and by its mouthpieces in the mainstream media to use the full muscle of the federal government to force British Columbia into submission.

      Postmedia, in particular, has led that charge, with no end of columns from the likes of John Ivison, Andrew Coyne, Terence Corcoran, Chris Varcoe, Don Braid—to name only some of its most ardent pipeline champions.

      No surprise there, especially given Postmedia’s own formal partnerships with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and its cheerleaders for development at Resource Works.

      Time for the feds to get tough with B.C., they say. Time for Trudeau to stick that project where the sun don’t shine—at least not in the winter.

      As if there won’t be dangerous repercussions for national unity.

      As if that won’t invite the prospect of violence, as peaceful protests devolve into physical confrontations, which I certainly do not condone and that no one should ever want to see.

      As if that “get tough” approach won’t stupidly risk escalating the large protests now being planned by some Indigenous groups into a national crisis we should hope to avoid at all costs.

      As if all those hard “learning episodes” of yesteryear are not destined to be repeated, by dint of our own federal government’s ignorance, impudence, and bizarre interpretation of what is required in the “national interest”.   

      As if Ottawa’s espoused ends justifies its means.

      Legislation introduced by the federal government further adds salt in B.C.’s wound, welcome as it otherwise is.

      Earlier this week, the Trudeau government introduced changes to the Fisheries Act, in Bill C-68. They largely served to highlight how pathetic fisheries protection has been, especially in respect of oil and gas pipelines and ocean transport.

      The Trudeau government has now unveiled its much anticipated overhaul of the environmental assessment process. Including for major resource development and infrastructure projects conducted by the National Energy Board.

      The good news?

      Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act purports to create “better rules” to ensure those assessments are guided by science and Indigenous traditional knowledge, in partnership with Aboriginal peoples, with tighter timelines, and with new regard long-term and cumulative impacts.

      Future assessments will be broadened to include social, economic, health, climate, and Indigenous impacts, informed by a new lens on gender issues and the broader impacts on Canada's climate action commitments.

      The bad news?

      None of that will be applied, as Trudeau promised it would to the Kinder Morgan project.


      Because he and his government want to impose that project on B.C. Against its wishes, without so much as even the scientific understanding that B.C.’s NDP government has had the “temerity” to seek in respect of how heavy oil spills will actually react in the ocean. 

      That scientific knowledge—like the other evidence that was not subject to oral cross-examination or proper evidentiary scrutiny in the NEB’s appalling review of the Kinder Morgan project—is best left a dirty, dark secret, in the Trudeau government’s eyes.

      Just shut up about that and such other concerns, Alberta premier Rachel Notley is also effectively saying, as she goes about hatching new plans for ramping up her unlawful trade assault on innocent B.C. businesses, with the help of her new advisory group.

      Trudeau seems happy enough to turn a blind eye to those critical scientific concerns and to that mischief by Alberta being perpetrated against the people of British Columbia—which he has unwittingly invited by his weak-kneed political attempt at playing the “kind uncle” who mostly wants B.C. to simply bend over, bear it, and wear it. 

      British Columbia is instead getting the shaft on that “Mother of all” pipeline projects.

      “We’re going to ensure that pipeline gets built,” Trudeau reiterated this week to his adoring audience in San Francisco, some 1,400 kilometers down the coast from Vancouver. 

      Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has also vowed the government will step in if necessary to ensure that the Trans Mountain pipeline is built.

      “The British Columbia government can consult, if it wants to consult,” the federal minister snidely said. “We’ve done our consulting. We consulted with literally tens of thousands of Canadians. We concluded that the Trans Mountain expansion was a good project for Canada.”

      Damn the torpedoes, that project is moving forward.

      And if necessary, the federal government will use its full legal might and—God forbid—potentially also its available military might, if need be, to impose its will on British Columbia.

      In essence, the Trudeau government is saying that the Horgan administration’s announced consultation process is a moot point. It won’t deter Ottawa from using its exclusive constitutional authority to push that pipeline through.

      To hell with British Columbia’s intended regulatory efforts to better safeguard its environment and economy from oil spills, the Trudeau government is now basically saying, in no uncertain terms.

      Resistance is futile.

      Canada will simply “not allow” B.C. to do its own due diligence.

      It will not allow B.C. to impose new regulations that would defer any increase in the transportation of bitumen across its territory, pending recommendations from an independent scientific review panel “on if and how heavy oils can be safely transported and cleaned up, if spilled”.

      Trudeau has so commanded.

      Any such speculative measures on B.C.’s part will not be tolerated by the one government that has dominion over the national interest.

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has been leading the fight against pipelines in B.C.—and many young Indigenous and non-Indigenous British Columbians support his point of view.
      Yolande Cole

      Never mind the very real assault on Canada’s national fabric that Alberta premier Rachel Notley has deliberately launched, with her illegal boycott of British Columba wine.

      A trade war, which she has recklessly initiated, in violation of the New West Partnership and the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.

      An ill-advised publicity stunt, which she admits was squarely aimed at provoking national headlines aimed mostly at getting Trudeau’s undivided attention.

      That action prompted nary a word of criticism from the Trudeau government, which has now sided squarely with Alberta to impose its will on British Columbia.

      Here’s the thing. Might doesn’t necessarily make right.

      Nor does having the law on one’s side make the abuse of that power any more tolerable for those whose legitimate interests and rights are so wantonly violated.

      Just because the “patriarch” of our national family has certain authority enshrined in the country’s highest law doesn’t mean it is OK for him to rely on that fact in perpetrating an act tantamount to an indecent assault on Canada’s westernmost kith and kin.

      Yet that is what B.C. now seems to be facing.

      “Let us have our way, just this once,” the Trudeau government is effectively pleading.

      “Trust me, it won’t hurt as much you might imagine,” it says.

      Something too many of Canada’s Indigenous peoples have heard far too many times before from the federal authorities and others in positions of public trust, which the prime minister’s decision and newly aggressive tone on Kinder Morgan will do little to heal.

      “But regardless, we’re intent on sticking this oily thing in your beautiful port, come what may, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Because we hold the big stick.”

      The worst of it is, there is no one that British Columbians can really appeal to for higher help.

      Their would-be abuser is the law that turns a blind eye to the gross transgressions of Canada’s good cops gone bad.

      “Who you going to call, anyway?” our own federal government is as much as now saying to Kinder Morgan’s opponents and detractors.

      “The courts? Good luck with that. We have the constitution in our pocket. The cops? We own them. The military? Also under our thumb.”

      What a terrible indictment of the real leadership needed to judiciously apply the federal government’s constitutional authority, in contemporary appreciation of provincial autonomy and of a progressive approach to nation-building.

      “Just bend over and grab your ankles, B.C.,” the feds are now effectively saying. “You are powerless to resist. Just this once, we will ensure that Big Oil has its way with you.”

      Welcome to the Trudeau government’s twisted take on “defending” Canada from any actions B.C. might take that might conceivably impinge on federal jurisdiction.

      It is a sick view of federalism that justifies “no” to mean “yes”.

      A view grounded in constitutional nuances and niceties that is completely divorced from the moral, economic, environmental, and political realities of Canadian federalism in the modern context.

      The damage that approach will do to our nation will one day come back to haunt us.

      The scars they will leave will only fester, until they ultimately erupt, maybe a decade or more hence.

      Only to produce a whole world of new hurt and national pain that any fool could predict—and that Kinder Morgan also has in its power to stop. Right now. If its shareholders see the light.

      It’s just not worth it, Canada.

      Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman wants to appoint a scientific panel to look at ways to reduce the risk and impact of diluted bitumen spills.
      Josh Berson

      I still don’t think that Trudeau’s Liberal lickspittles have the faintest clue of the damage they are wishing upon our country’s relations with its First Peoples by their ignorant insistance on pushing forward with this ill-conceived project.

      It is virtually bound to make the clashes from decades past at Gustafsen LakeBurnt Church, Apex Mountain, Duffy Lake, and Seton Portage look like a walk in the park.

      It seems destined to provoke a new confrontation of uncertain proportions that may well be every bit as disasterous as Oka or Ipperwash.

      Be that as it may, Trudeau’s duplicity, double-speak, hypocrisy, abdication of responsibility, weak leadership, and sheer incompetence on this file now threatens to bring Canada to the brink of a veritable existential crisis.

      One that starts and ends with its vision for Big Oil, as the authors of the Leap Manifesto also sought to hold out as a subject for honest national discussion. 

      More than any other industrial project in our nation’s modern history, this crisis of confidence stands to define who we are as Canadians.

      It is, at its core, a debate about our collective vision for truly sustainable development, for our environment, for climate action, for reconciliation, and for the future of Canadian federalism.

      Most of us Canadians are a complacent bunch. We dearly love our country and can’t imagine anything ever rocking its confederate ship of state, beyond perhaps the currently remote threat of Quebec separation.

      We tend to discount any notion that our nation is not, in fact, immutable. That it will live forever, whatever its internal regional, cultural, and economic tensions.

      We tend to view Canada as being impervious to its own constitutionally entrenched fault lines. A dangeous delusion at best.

      The dustbin of history is littered with examples of other nations that also wrongly assumed they were destined to reign eternal.

      This project is more than a mere irritant on Canada’s body politic. It is a watershed moment for Confederation.

      One that should oblige the prime minister to step back from the ledge he has put himself and Canada on, and at the very least, do what he promised in the election.

      Namely, tell Kinder Morgan and Alberta that he is sorry, but that this project will only proceed if it first passes the new multipronged acid test that his government now envisions for any new pipeline under Bill 69. 

      If he fails to do that, his government’s abuse of constitutional authority will only serve to erode British Columbians’ trust in him as Canada’s self-styled “patron saint”.

      As it is, Trudeau is looking more each day like a pale imitation of the environmentally conscious figure he likes to present himself as being. 

      Now we learn that, all along, his government was quietly welcoming Donald Trump’s election as “positive news” for Alberta’s oil industry, as the Guardian has just reported.

      NAFTA be damned. Trump’s the ticket for what ails Alberta, Trudeau’s minions agreed, behind closed doors.

      “The swearing in of a new administration in the United States that recognizes the strategic importance of Canada’s role in North American energy security is, so far, positive news for the Canadian energy sector with regard to a potential increase in energy trade,” those officials wrote, in a May 2017 document.

      Now, it seems, Trudeau is also taking lessons from Trump about how to handle subjects in his charge.

      His apparent disregard for British Columbians’ interests and his appalling disrespect for the broader national interests at stake in the Kinder Morgan dispute is entirely too indicative of Trump’s abusive style and use of authority.

      All Canadians should be forewarned.

      There are many, many people out here on Canada’s distant shores who have had it with being told they are helpless to defend their own provincial interests.

      The day of reckoning is fast arriving.

      We will not go quietly into the night or acquiesce without a fight. We will continue to use every legal tool available to stop this widely unwanted and grossly irresponsible project.

      Because we love Canada. Because we care about our environment and economy. Because we know how offensive this pipeline project is to so many Indigenous people.

      And because might does not make right.

      Because authority does not automatically confer legitimacy.

      And because the real risks to our nation are so much greater than any possible imagined rewards will ever be.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at