Ben West: Justin Trudeau, Kinder Morgan, and the argument for a National Climate and Energy Board

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      Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

      “The politicians issue the permits but the people give the permission.”

      I was excited when I first heard you say that at a Liberal Party of Canada dinner in Surrey over a year before the federal election. After watching you over the years and talking to you on a few occasions, albeit briefly (once while wearing a polar bear costume), I believe you sincerely care about this notion of “social licence” that you refer to when you say the people give the permission.

      You have highlighted that centralized government was started in Canada by your father and you see symmetry in it ending with you. This concept of “social licence” has become the core of the conversation of new infrastructure projects in B.C.

      I repeated that turn of phrase about the people giving the permission many times at rallies and in media interviews. I agree strongly with this idea. Thank you for championing it.

      The implications for a prime minister interested in decentralization of decision-making are that you should take the views of local residents, municipal governments, and local First Nations seriously. There should be no question that plans for the new Kinder Morgan pipeline in B.C. should be squashed.

      Not only have the governments of Burnaby and Vancouver gone so far as to challenge the project in court, but the Union of B.C. Municipalities, representing all the municipal governments in the province, has also weighed in on the issue. The UBCM voted to oppose increased tanker traffic anywhere on the B.C. coast in 2012 and called for to an independent review of the Kinder Morgan project by the B.C. government due to concerns about the NEB process in 2014.

      Metro Vancouver has also voted to oppose the Kinder Morgan project. Lower Mainland residents have shown overwhelming opposition to this project repeatedly in polling.

      Furthermore, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, the people of Burrard Inlet have done their own independent review of the project and have rejected it outright. They have also taken the government to court on this issue. There could not be a more clear-cut case of a project that lacks social licence. To put it plainly Mr. Prime Minister, the people do not give the permission for this project.

      Why then does the public-consultation process for the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal continue to move forward? There is no doubt that the National Energy Board process in its current form is highly flawed and fundamentally lacks the public’s trust.

      If it is the Government of Canada’s intention is to renew public trust in this institution, then the first thing it should do is stop the existing process regarding the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline. This process is the poster child of a broken consultation process.

      The process has been called “fraudulent” by a former CEO of B.C. Hydro. A group of B.C. mayors from Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, City of North Vancouver, Victoria, Squamish and Bowen Island wrote a joint letter to the federal government saying they had "no confidence" in the existing process and called for an end to it.

      In their statement the mayors said: “It has become apparent that the NEB process does not constitute a ‘public hearing’ and is completely inadequate to assess the health and safety risks of a proposed pipeline through major metropolitan areas, and the potential risks of shipping bitumen oil to Burnaby and through Burrard Inlet, the Salish Sea, and along the coastline of British Columbia."

      But simply restarting the process under a marginally tweaked set of rules will not go far enough if the terms of reference for the NEB itself are not seriously restructured.

      I was thrilled to see that you decided the title of Canada’s environment minister is now the Minister of environment and climate change. This is a big step in the right direction and Honourable Catherine McKenna has her work cut out for her, no doubt.

      This same approach could be applied to the National Energy Board. I humbly propose that the National Energy Board be restructured as the Nation Climate and Energy Board. These two issues are clearly linked, climate and energy.

      Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion suggested that the entire cabinet has a role to play in addressing climate change.

      He recently told the Globe and Mail: “The old system was to give the file of the environment to the minister of environment and say to her or him, ‘Deal with it, be the hero of the environmental groups but don’t bother us because we have jobs to create and an economy to grow,’” he said. “That will not work.… [Ms. McKenna] will succeed only if all of us [in cabinet] have a green orientation and sensitivity.”

      If your government wants to show it is respecting the role of science in decision making and turning the page on the Harper government's shameful record on the issue of climate change, this structural change must be taken into consideration.

      Canada should have a budget for emissions that the NEB considers when discussing projects. If we are serious about staying below the 2 °C limit agreed to by 195 nations in the Paris accord, then this approach is only logical.

      Why would we waste time and money even discussing projects that would move us in the opposite direction? It would be very difficult for Kinder Morgan to make the case that its project would not expand our dependence on more carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

      Of course Mr. Prime Minister, the elephant in the room is the need for economic activity and the creation of jobs. As you know, Canada has the potential to be a renewable-energy superpower.

      Clean Energy Canada has done a good job of summarizing the energy-production and job-creation opportunities before us. You promised to remove fossil-fuel subsidies and would invest in renewable energy.

      Working with the provinces it would be easy to create a jobs strategy focused heavily on renewable-energy opportunities and the new National Climate and Energy board could lead the way.

      This does not mean threatening existing jobs in fossil fuels in the short term. If we are to reduce instead of increase our greenhouse-gas footprint however, it means phasing out our dependence on fossil fuels by 2050 at the latest.

      This is what we committed to in Paris. Some municipalities like Vancouver are already committed to these targets. This can and must be the legacy of your government. After all, it’s 2015, and we have no time to waste, we need to act now.

      Luckily, I also believe that you and your core team care about climate change. You need all the tools within your government to act decisively and effectively. Harmonizing the National Energy Board with your climate goals would be a big step toward ensuring projects would have proper social licence and would respect science.

      This has implications not only for the Kinder Morgan pipeline but for many other projects like Energy East or the exporting of coal, LNG, and the movement of oil by rail. All are serious issues this government must grapple with in the year ahead.

      The Trudeau government has already surprised many critics with its transparency and progressive policies in its first couple months in office. Now is a vitally important moment, the people have said no to this project, and the science could not be any more clear.

      Mr. Prime Minister, please do not issue the permits for the Kinder Morgan pipeline and change the mechanism for decision-making to show you really want to know if the people have given you their permission.  

      Thank you for taking the time to consider this letter.

      Yours truly,

      Ben West

      Executive Director

      Tanker Free BC