Martyn Brown: Suing for peace from Trudeau’s nuclear threats on Trans Mountain

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      It is a familiar and unsettling image: the theatrical parade of ballistic missiles, line upon line, rolling forward on flatbeds in a dictatorial show of force.

      The march of madness by mad men, heralding war to come.

      It felt eerily and evocatively similar last week, watching the loads of steel pipe (clip starts at 13:52) all bundled on trains in Kamloops and ready to be deployed in Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline cold war.

      All that threatening hardware, just waiting to be entrenched in a 1,150-kilometre silo that history suggests is an accident waiting to happen.

      Witness Kinder Morgan’s gift to the world.

      A singular arsenal of environmental mass destruction, pointing west to the Pacific, in defiance of Aboriginal rights and title, of its hostile “host” province and communities, and of the life-supporting ecosystems it will traverse.

      An artery of engineered toxicity and unfathomable energy, rushing out to the sea, bound for atmospheric assault.

      An agent of a doomed industry, as it were, that is itself a blight on the face of the Earth it exists to exploit, steam apart, dig up, and occasionally cover in tar.

      Such is Justin Trudeau’s “strategically critical” pipeline.

      The one he now vows to complete at all costs, whatever it takes to satisfy its American owners and to appease the foreign agents and domestic allies of Big Oil.

      Justin Trudeau (in a sweater) is among those overlooking a huge pipe at a Saskatchewan steel plant.
      Prime Minister's Office

      Kinder Morgan has made it clear that it won’t harbour any further delays.

      It has given Canada’s obedient boy king his marching orders, and when called upon to act, by golly, act out he will.

      He will brook no more legal resistance from B.C.’s unhelpful NDP government, from Canada’s Indigenous peoples, or from environmental organizations.

      Not that he can stop it.

      Even if the pending Federal Court of Appeal ruling on his egregiously compromised National Energy Board (NEB) review process goes in his government’s favour, Trudeau cannot stop any appeals to the Supreme Court that might follow from First Nations or other offended parties.

      Every day, new revelations are further undermining the legitimacy of that evidential and consultative charade and fundamentally dishonest government approval process.

      Now, the National Observer has dug up even more cause for alarm about the ways in which the government’s solemn commitments to Aboriginal consultation and accommodation were allegedly bent to facilitate a pre-ordained outcome.

      How shocking. Not. New evidence suggests that saying “no” to the project was never an option. It was always about getting to “yes”, through fair means or foul.

      Those latest revelations from internal emails and senior bureaucrats’ notes might prove to be the last spike, as it were, in the Trans Mountain coffin. A fitting metaphor for an interprovincial pipeline that is serving to divide British Columbians from Alberta and Ottawa with the opposite force and effect that the national railway that united our country from east to west in linking B.C. to Canada.

      The former is an underground path to unprecedented Pacific Canadian alienation, while the latter was a route to cooperative federalism, at least on the surface.

      Those troubling newly exposed documents should give the Federal Court of Appeal new cause for concern about the prospect of “sharp dealing” in honouring the Crown’s fiduciary obligations in respect of Indigenous rights and interests.

      They may well also give the First Nations opposed to the pipeline some damning new ammunition in asserting their constitutional rights and grievances in court.

      Yet in the interim, the show must go on, with real and implied threats aimed at quashing all resistance, no matter its fundamental legitimacy.

      Trudeau will not allow peaceful democratic protests or acts of civil disobedience to deter him from his politically erratic mission.

      Anyone who might directly or indirectly cause the foreign powers-that-be to pull the plug on Kinder Morgan’s increasingly uneconomic project is now an enemy of his petro-state who must be silenced and rendered harmless, at all costs.

      Nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of his fossil-fueled vision for Canadian commerce, “climate action” and “ocean protection”—the holy triumvirate that he claims are inseparably conjoined by dint of his side deal with Alberta, to supposedly gain its undying support for his carbon pricing plan.

      A dubious deal at best, given that his chief opponent for prime minister, along with Alberta’s and Ontario’s likely next premiers, have all vowed to stand together with Saskatchewan’s current premier in fighting that carbon tax.

      No matter, Trudeau is ready to “go nuclear”, if necessary, to advance his misguided pipe dream. No nuclear cave-in for him.

      Justin Trudeau didn't end up buying F-35 fighter planes (like the one above), so B.C. residents won't have to worry about them being deployed in the war over a pipeline.

      Any day now, we are told, we should expect to see the full extent of his legislative weaponry aimed at reducing B.C.’s pending constitutional reference case to ash.

      In so doing, he is taking his cue from the unconstitutional and idiotic recent legislative actions of Alberta and Saskatchewan in their attempts to elevate their politically self-serving pipeline war alert to DEFCON 1.

      Winter is coming, in Canada’s Game of Thrones. But before it does, we will all be in for a long, hot summer, marked by the serious spectre of physical Oka-like clashes led by aggrieved First Nations.

      All for a pipeline that will pump 890,000 barrels a day of chemically congealed Albertan dinosaur waste to Burnaby’s seashore and beyond.

      A pipeline that will triple present volumes and that will convert Metro Vancouver’s mecca for green growth into a major export hub for Alberta’s low-grade, unrefined, heavy oil and a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet.

      That project’s 14 new storage tanks at Kinder Morgan’s expanded Westridge Marine Terminal will store some 3.9-million barrels of one of the world’s most dangerous crude and dirty types of heavy crude.

      All to be loaded onto the backs of Aframax class tankers, each laden with up to 120,000 metric tonnes—or 750,000 barrels of diluted bitumen. An inevitable catastrophe in a can.

      All bound for California, Asia, and other markets willing to buy and process that heavy oil that Canada is too short-sighted and/or stupid to refine itself, if only to maximize its own job creation.

      Refining more of that product at home would do much to minimize the environmental risks of oil spills from diluted bitumen.

      It would also substantially mitigate the carbon-pollution consequences of shipping that product to other countries that will refine it without giving the slightest fig about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

      Not in the cards, it would seem.

      And so, we are left with the question of how to at least minimize the risks and costs of diluted bitumen spills, whether or not that pipeline ever comes to fruition.

      The Kinder Morgan project will further threaten sensitive marine habitats that are home to some 113 marine species and sub-species that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists as being at risk or vulnerable to extinction.

      Those listed species include 56 types of birds, 37 fish species, 15 types of mammals, 3 types of invertebrates, and 2 species of reptiles.

      As it notes, “72 species of birds and 37 mammals use the Salish Sea marine ecosystem for some part of their life cycle. Nearly 50 per cent of these birds and 80 per cent of the mammals depend on it for food or habitat, and many of those (30 per cent of birds and 38 per cent of mammals) are already listed as either threatened, endangered or are candidates for these designations.”

      They include endangered salmon stocks, shellfish, and the Salish Sea’s 76 remaining resident orca whales.

      B.C.'s iconic sockeye salmon runs could be jeopardized if there were ever an oil spill near the mouth of the Fraser River at the wrong time of the year.
      Stephen Hui

      Is it any wonder, then, that B.C. is deeply concerned about the risk of heavy oil spills?

      Is it so unreasonable to expect that B.C. would want to assert its own constitutional authority for environmental protection in that regard, including in respect of diluted bitumen transported within its borders by rail, truck, or other means?

      Not just to ensure adequate compliance enforcement, and tougher spill response standards and capacity.

      Not just to enhance oil spill prevention, clean-up and remediation capability, or to ensure that appropriate penalties and compensation are in place.

      But also, to protect its terrestrial and marine habitats. To better protect coastal communities and their local economies. And to honour and uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its principle of “free, prior, and informed consent"—which the federal government continues to ignore at will.

      It is no joke, dealing with an oil spill of 5,000,000 litres of “emulsion” equivalent to two Olympic-sized swimming pools—an amount of spilled slurry that if made into gasoline could have filled up about 15,000 cars.

      It is no small matter to contemplate a 42-hectare tar sands spill that has flooded an area the size of 52 football fields with "produced" tarsands water.

      It is no hypothetical concern to consider the tangible and life-ending devastation caused by the Kalamazoo River oil spill that Canada’s tarsands industry suffered upon Michigan.

      But it happens. Typically, with little disruption of business. And a spill of that magnitude could just as easily happen anywhere along the expanded pipeline’s path or anywhere at sea.

      Offenders might get a relatively minor maximum $3-million fine, or some lesser “slap on the wrist”, as was the case with those involved in the 2007 oil spill in Burnaby—one of some 82 spills from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline.

      Year after year, spill after spill, it continues without abatement, despite all of the “failsafe” mechanisms that are supposed to make the risks of spills “remote” in the transportation of diluted bitumen.

      Trust us, Big Oil and Alberta premier Rachel Notley says: a double-hulled oil tanker has "never had an accident" "since 1956". 

      Except that that claim is patently untrue. Nevertheless, it was dutifully reported without challenge by the mainstream media that is do deep in bed with Big Oil it makes Jason Kenney’s toes curl.

      Workers haul away contaminated soil alongside the Kalamazoo River after a diluted-bitumen spill in 2010.
      Environmental Protection Agency

      And it is not just pipeline spills that are of concern to B.C. and other provincial governments.

      Railway spills and accidents are also a legitimate focus for provincial regulatory and legislative attention aimed at strengthening health, safety, and environmental protection.

      Indeed, those risks proved to be critical in Washington state’s recent decision to reject the now defunct Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project.

      It was a rail-based schemed to deliver crude oil to U.S. refineries “to offset or replace declining Alaska North Slope crude reserves, California crude production, and more expensive foreign crude-oil imports”.

      Read the chapter on the Impacts of Accidents and Oil Spills that was part of the state regulator’s review. It documents chapter and verse the types of risks that B.C. and other provinces can also similarly expect from the transportation of Alberta’s heavy oil by rail or pipelines.

      The Lac-Mégantic oil spill derailment disaster killed 47 people. The Transportation Safety Board review pretty much confirmed that federal government didn’t do its job as required.

      It found that the federal regulator knew of "significant operation changes" at the rail company at issue, but it failed to provide "adequate regulatory oversight".

      It further determined that Transport Canada also "did not follow up" to address the company’s "recurring safety deficiencies".

      "Consequently, unsafe practices persisted."

      Can the federal government really be trusted to properly minimize and mitigate such risks?

      B.C.’s minister of environment and climate change strategy, George Heyman, does not think so.

      “We believe there is much we can do to protect the B.C. environment and the economy,” he recently said in the legislature. “Railways are a federal responsibility, but impacts off the rail line, from carrying of goods, can be regulated by the B.C. government, have been regulated by the B.C. government, and will continue to be regulated as appropriate by the B.C. government.”

      Is the Trudeau government doing even remotely enough to regulate, monitor and safeguard the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, heavy oil storage tanks, and ocean export facility from diluted bitumen spills?

      Give your head a shake.

      Are we actually expected to rely on the opinion of federal Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr? He maintains that “the science has been made clear”…“We're in better shape than we've ever been before” in dealing with the environmental risks of diluted bitumen spills.

      Not on your life. To say nothing of the lives of those species, ecosystems, First Nations, and vulnerable communities that those inevitable spills directly stand to threaten.

      Justin Trudeau looks like he means business in discussions with B.C. premier John Horgan, but the prime minister may be playing with a weak hand.
      Prime Minister's Office

      Are we seriously expected to trust the word of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association?

      It claims that “Extensive research has already been conducted into the behaviour of diluted bitumen and the nature of the product is well understood. Everything—from its properties, to how it’s transported and cleaned up in the case of a spill—has been thoroughly studied and the information is known and available to the government of British Columbia.”

      Yet, such claims fly in the face of the explicit concerns of scientists, such as Environment and Climate Change Canada chemist Bruce Hollebone.

      The federal government’s own experts are deeply worried about the paucity of scientific knowledge about the behaviour of that heavy oil when it is spilled into life-supporting rivers, streams, lakes, and sea water. Especially as it breaks down with weathering and sinks, making recovery and clean-up so much harder, if not impossible.

      If anything, those concerns have been elevated by the scientific research on diluted bitumen that has been done by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans National Contaminants Advisory Group, by the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel, and by America’s National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

      That lack of basic scientific knowledge is something the B.C. government desperately wants to address before Kinder Morgan triples the flow of diluted bitumen to tidewater.

      Why would we not address those knowledge gaps before opening the flood gates to pour triple of that product to the ocean and onto the backs of oil tankers that currently ply Georgia Strait?

      Is the federal government’s limited knowledge of the behaviour of diluted bitumen in salt water, or its regulatory track record really sufficient for any province to forswear its overlapping constitutional responsibility in that regard?

      Why would any province agree to hand over its authority in that way, as Ottawa now demands?

      Is it really so hard to understand why B.C., Quebec, or other provinces might want to assert their constitutional jurisdiction as legally allowable, to better safeguard their citizens, environment, economy, and natural resources?

      What, if anything, might be done to provincially legislate and regulate in that regard? Stay tuned, it promises to be a defining issue for Confederation in the weeks and months ahead.

      The B.C. government has vowed to put it constitutional reference case before the B.C. Court of Appeal by April 30. Fingers crossed, it will present a winning argument.

      While we wait for that next shoe to drop, however, it is worthwhile remembering who is really most responsible for the situation we are now in.

      Namely, Justin Trudeau and the company that has proven so proficient at suckering him into underwriting its risky venture.

      It just goes to show, smart Texans with great gobs of investment capital can almost always outfox naïve Canadian politicians who rush to reward them for being their own worst enemy.

      Kinder Morgan has repeatedly blamed B.C. for Trans Mountain’s construction delays, which have pushed back the project’s most recent estimated in-service date by at least a year, to December 2020.

      That target date now seems about as likely to be met as the odds of Rachel Notley winning Alberta’s next election.

      In January Kinder Morgan reported that “the scope and pace of the permits and approvals received to date does not allow for significant additional construction to begin at this time. KML also stated that it must have a clear line of sight on the timely conclusion of the permitting and approvals processes before it will commit to full construction spending.” 

      Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Fact is, it is the company, and certainly not B.C. that is most responsible for its own delays and implausible construction schedule.

      Last September, the NEB admonished Trans Mountain for appearing to have violated “one or both of subsections 31(b) and 31(c) of the NEB Act”, also in violation of the conditions imposed for the project’s approval. The company had been installing fish spawning deterrent mats in watercourses that the pipeline will cross, without a permit.

      The NEB directed Trans Mountain to discontinue that activity until it had obtained the requisite permits. In response, the company’s lawyer pleaded for some “relief”, arguing that "Deterrent installations may be delayed for a year (i.e., in 2018), which would delay construction of the corresponding crossing for a full year, potentially impacting the Project in-service date."

      After that, the NEB granted Kinder Morgan's request for a new process to fast-track reviews of its complaints about delayed permit approvals and to resolve them within three to five weeks.

      It also ruled that Trans Mountain would not have to abide by all of Burnaby’s construction bylaws that had delayed permits—an appalling decision that the city and the province tried to appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal, to no avail. It may yet be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

      Justin Trudeau has done anything but drive a hard bargain with the Americans on their pipeline project through B.C.
      Prime Minister's Office

      In no way has the B.C. government done anything to delay the project. If anything, it is Kinder Morgan that is most responsible for any delays caused by its actions and decisions in respect of the federal and provincial permitting processes.

      As the B.C. government recently revealed, of the total 1,187 provincial permits required for the Trans Mountain expansion project, 587 permit applications had been submitted to permitting agencies. Of which, 201 have been approved and permits issued, with the other 386 applications still under review.

      The other 600 required permits have not even been submitted yet by Kinder Morgan.

      To the extent that any permitting hold-up exists at the provincial level, it is because the company has not filed for over half of the permits it needs—all of which must align with the 37 conditions outlined in the project’s provincial environmental certificate, as well as the 157 conditions specified by the National Energy Board.

      As NDP Burnaby South Kennedy Stewart pointed out in Parliament, as yet, Kinder Morgan is mostly the author of its own misfortune.

      “One third of the final route details have not been approved,” he noted, and just last week “Kinder Morgan formally asked the National Energy Board to delay all future route hearings. Meaning final approval will not come until at least 2019.

      “Of the 157 required NEB conditions, the company has ticked only half of the boxes, not even filed paperwork for 50, and been rejected by the NEB on some of its efforts, including those pertaining to caribou habitat restoration.”

      Now Trans Mountain has announced it is suspending all nonessential activities and related spending on the project, pending its May 31 deadline to bring governments to heel in providing the ironclad certainty it seeks for its derisked capital.

      It essentially wants to guarantee that its requested permits will be approved without delay. As if it is entitled to have those permits rapidly approved, regardless of whatever deficiencies its applications might contain, or the added time they might take to remedy.

      Poor Trudeau. He is so deeply out of his depth it hurts.

      As they say in Texas, if you mess with the bull you get the horns.

      Or as Lyndon Johnson so famously said, “I feel like a hitchhiker caught in a hailstorm on a Texas highway. I can't run, I can't hide, and I can't make it stop.”

      At this point, the only way that Trudeau can stop the shit storm he’s started is to either act like a leader and stare down Kinder Morgan’s ultimatum, or pray it pulls the plug.

      But like any puppet prince beholden to a stronger, smarter, and more determined power, he will instead do exactly as he is told, fearing that their weapons are more deadly than his.

      The difference between him and the cold warriors of yesteryear is that they eventually came to their senses, more or less, finally realizing that their common strategy of “mutually assured destruction” was not exactly a prescription for their own progress and survival.

      Apparently Trudeau never got the memo.

      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