A Dangerous Precedent, Indeed
On June 17, the federal government issued its approval of the Northern Gateway project, approving the recommendation of the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel that the project be approved with 209 conditions. Both Thomas Mulcair, federal NDP leader and Justin Trudeau, federal Liberal leader, came out strongly against the decision.
In the NDP’s press release, Mr. Mulcair states: “Today’s decision sets a dangerous precedent for resource development in this country. Conservatives are telling Canadians that they will not be heard. Projects like Northern Gateway can happen anywhere, without consideration for First Nations rights, the environment, the risks or the will of the people.” The Liberal party’s response was similar; Mr. Trudeau stated: “The review process has failed to consult with local communities and Aboriginal Peoples, and Canadians have not been reassured that the local economy will be protected.” The Vancouver Sun has reported both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau would block the pipeline if either won the 2015 election.
Yet if one looks at the transcripts and final report of the Joint Review Panel, it is clear that the panel did consult with Canadians and did consider environmental impacts. Though the review period lasted only 18 months, 1179 people provided oral statements and 175,669 pages of evidence are on the record. The panel held hearings in 21 different communities, including nine First Nations communities. To give Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they only mean there should have been more consultation. Of course, that raises the question of how much consultation is “enough”? The Joint Review Panel final report clearly states Enbridge fulfilled the mandated requirements. Deciding which additional groups and people should be consulted is a policy issue, and beyond the scope of an individual hearing.
Mr. Mulcair has also been reported as saying an NDP government would bring in legislation to start a new environmental process. And yet, Mr. Mulcair is in support of the proposed Energy East pipeline, which falls under the jurisdiction of the National Energy Board, and the same environmental review process as Northern Gateway. This inconsistency suggests Mr. Mulcair doesn’t disagree with the process, only the pipeline. This reveals a concerning amount of arbitrariness and unwillingness to consider the recommendations of an independent panel of experts. And that is certainly a dangerous precedent.