Pipeline approval processes in the time of cholera

Macdonald-Laurier Institute (that neutral, non-partisan thinktank hur hur) – Director Brian Lee Crowley has an op-ed. It’s useful.

Like it or not, Canada’s economic strength has always been closely tied to natural resources.

True. Although I do seem to recall much talk from all sides of the aisle about how Canada should move away from all that and become a more “mature” economy. But whatever. We have been and mostly still are a nature of hewers of wood and drawers of water and crackers of rocks and stuff. In that regard…

Take the tribunal holding hearings on the Northern Gateway. It is premised on the idea that Canadians favour the development of their resources, but want that development to proceed in accordance with high standards of safety, environmental protection and social responsibility…

I think that’s a fair characterization. There really are only two outcomes to the tribunal process – approval or disapproval. It’s not a policy body. This, however, is not fair:

Increasingly, however, a vocal minority sees these regulatory proceedings, not as opportunities to ensure fact-based decision-taking as we develop our resources, but as a place to argue that such development ought not to be allowed at all…

First we have Crowley asserting that opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline is not based on facts but is some sort of moral and/or political stand. Only. Not to mention characterizing all opposition as being cut from the same cloth. And in his defence if you ignore scientific arguments put forth by some of Gateway’s opponents such as…

Part of the pipeline’s final route into Kitimat would pass through an area with clay soil that has been known to trigger major landslides. In 1962, a slide took out 600 metres of the highway to Kitimat and left bulldozer-swallowing fissures, some four metres wide and 10 metres deep. Earthquakes occasionally trigger submarine landslides that set off local tsunamis.

…and…

The marine environment at the surface can be equally brutal. Some tankers would traverse Hecate Strait, which Environment Canada ranks as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world. Waves in South Hecate Strait have reached 26 metres – the height of a seven-storey building.

…he’s right. (Or that Enbridge’s safety record leaves a lot to be desired). But that’s not really the central point I want to make. Crowley believes the proper arena for these “philosophical” discussions is the political.

Alas, pipeline development doesn’t follow the rhythms and timetables of elections. We are also dealing with different levels of government each of whom may have been elected with different mandates – or in Christy Clark’s case, no mandate at all. Not to mention that even if a government was elected in B.C. with a mandate to oppose the pipeline…it couldn’t veto it. That’s right…B.C. only has “intervener” status. And by “intervene” I mean they can show up at the meeting and voice their opinion.

But it’s Crowley’s characterization of opposition as a “vocal minority” that is at issue. Remember this is happening the context of: a Federal government whom 60% of the electorate voted against; as mentioned a provincial government in B.C. that currently has no independent mandate; and where polls of popular opinion have long shown B.C. residents oppose tanker traffic – which will be required to make the project work – off their coasts by large majorities.

So Crowley is kinda right about a vocal minority interfering in the approval process – he’s just got it ass-backwards.

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