This morning, two B.C. NDP cabinet ministers outlined steps their government is taking to address public concerns over Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project.
The owner, Texas-based Kinder Morgan, wants to triple shipments of Alberta oil through its system to 890,000 barrels per day. That would lead to a nearly seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through Georgia and Juan de Fuca straits.
At a news conference in Vancouver, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman said that this is not in the best interests of B.C.'s economy, environment, or existing jobs.
He and Attorney General David Eby revealed that lawyer and former B.C. Supreme Court justice Tom Berger has been retained as an external counsel to advise the government on what's required to consult "meaningfully" with Indigenous people.
Berger is a former NDP leader. He has argued many landmark cases involving Indigenous rights, including the Calder case, which recognized that Aboriginal title existed prior to Confederation. This set the stage for many other decisions that advanced Indigenous legal rights.
In addition, Berger will offer input on seeking intervenor status at hearings in Federal Court this fall over the pipeline.
Berger will also advise the government regarding any intervention at the National Energy Board, which approved the pipeline subject to meeting 157 conditions.
Heyman insisted that there's legal duty to consult with Indigenous people when environmental assessment certificates are granted—and this is another area that Berger will review.
In the meantime, Heyman said that Kinder Morgan "cannot put shovels in the ground" on public land.
"Going forward we will be reviewing policies to outline how our government expects to further meet our commitments to First Nations as well as to all British Columbians with regard to defending our air, land and water," Heyman said. "This policy review will clarify government policy for decision-makers as they evaluate future permits and work plans."
The statement was welcomed by the environmental nongovernmental organization Stand.earth, which called it a "major setback for Kinder Morgan construction plans".
“The company has been telling investors and the media for quite awhile now that construction would start September 1st, and it's now clear that that will not be happening,” Stand.earth energy and climate campaigner Sven Biggs said in a news release.
Sierra Club B.C.'s communications director Tim Pearson applauded the hiring of Berger, saying this "sends a clear signal that the province will leave no legal stone unturned".
"The provincial government was elected on a promise to use every tool available to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the threat of a seven-fold increase in bitumen tankers on our coast," Pearson said in a news release. “Today’s announcement is a serious and considered first step to fulfilling that promise."