One small step for the Supreme Court of Canada, one giant leap for mankind.
A barely-noticed* part of the unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision on Thursday recognizing the rights and title of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation to their traditional territory may—may— change the way resource companies operate, not just in Canada but around the world.
The ruling isn’t just about consultation, reconciliation and accommodation, it’s about the future.
A close reading of the decision, written by Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin says the Crown, in its relations with First Nations, cannot “deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”
While the ruling applies only to First Nations, it upholds the First Nations’ concept of “stewards of the land” for the future and thus could protect the environment for all future generations, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, in Canada and perhaps around the world.
The ruling says:
Aboriginal title, however, comes with an important restriction — it is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations. This means it cannot be alienated except to the Crown or encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it. Nor can the land be developed or misused in a way that would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land. Some changes — even permanent changes – to the land may be possible. Whether a particular use is irreconcilable with the ability of succeeding generations to benefit from the land will be a matter to be determined when the issue arises.
While the Supreme Court ruling was about a case in British Columbia, where previous decisions have shown that in that province, aboriginal title was not extinguished at the time of European settlement and, what the court calls, “declaration of sovereignty,” by the colonial powers, the decision is already seen as applying to First Nations across the country where they can prove long term use of the land.
Already there are those in the business community and among the conservative pundits who are raising the alarms about First Nations blocking resource development.
Perhaps, just perhaps, some big corporations are quietly approving the Supreme Court decision because it gives responsible companies a roadmap for their operations, that roadmap will, as the years go by, reduce, not increase, uncertainty.
Some companies, including the world’s biggest corporations are now thinking about the future. It is likely those companies are already planning new procedures and practices that will comply with the Supreme Court’s requirement of consultation and consent on First Nations’ traditional territory.
In May, at an LNG event in Vancouver, I was speaking to a high ranking energy executive whose responsibilities cover half the planet.
“Everything has changed in the past five years,” he told me. “Once all we had to do is talk to presidents and prime ministers, now we listen to everybody.”
What changed, he said, was the rise of social media, Facebook and Twitter. “In one case five women in one small town shut down a project that would have been worth millions.” (He would not tell me the specifics and assured me it was true but he wasn’t prepared to give the details because it wasn’t his company that was involved).
“Not all my colleagues agree with me,” he said, “But in the end it’s good for business, if we genuinely engage with a community, we actually save on costs and get into profit sooner.” He said that smart companies in the energy sector have staff constantly monitoring social media, not to identify “enemies” but so top management can be aware of growing issues that may complicate their future operations.
This company generally, so far, has good relations with First Nations in British Columbia (although its record elsewhere in the world has been questionable at times in the past).
If truly responsible resource and other companies either willingly or are compelled to change their practices and investment decisions on First Nations’ land so that those projects consider future generations, and still make a profit, (which my source says they can) then it is likely that the companies will then adopt those practices in other parts of Canada where Rights and Title are not an issue and then around the world.
To use a marketplace phrase, it isn’t going to be “an easy sell.” For more than half a century now, the world has been plagued by the idea from Milton Friedman and other economists that a corporation has only one responsibility to its bottom line and “shareholder value.” With companies that still follow the no responsibility culture, comes the race to the bottom and the environmental degradation we have seen increasing in recent years.
As The Globe and Mail reported, the Business Council of British Columbia, an intervenor, said in its submission
Business groups say the Tsilhqot’in’s approach to title threatens the economy. “A territorial approach undermines the ability of corporations, and indeed First Nations, to ensure the global competitiveness that is required to attract capital … within natural resource sectors dependent on the land base,” a coalition of B.C. business groups, intervening in the case, told the Supreme Court in its written argument.
For years now global competitiveness has been used an excuse for deliberately ignoring or turning a blind eye to practices that “substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”
Even if no high court in any another country matches or cities the Supreme Court of Canada decision, (and they should for the rights of all indigenous people) smart companies will increasingly recognize their responsibility not to “deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”
If those companies don’t change, as the years go on and the environmental crisis worsens, courts in other nations will likely cite the Supreme Court of Canada and force those companies to be responsible.
In the long term, in the future cited by the Chief Justice, those companies that do work toward a true “benefit of the land” for everyone will have a competitive advantage, perhaps not in the coming years, but certainly in the coming decades.
To use another phrase, respecting the rights and title of First Nations and the stewardship of the land will be a “net benefit” to Canada in the 21st century, even if the bean counters don’t believe it.
Legal recognition of the concept of stewardship by a high court might also save the planet from total disaster.
*(Barely-noticed: I can only find one media account that mentions in passing, an op ed opinion piece in the Globe and Mailby Vancouver lawyer Albert Hudec Aboriginal court ruling won’t resolve real-world resource issues)
The response to the Joint Review Panel decision on the Northern Gateway, beginning in December and continuing until this Canada Day, both in the public and in the media is sharply divided by the Rocky Mountains.
A lof of Albertans, most of the energy companies and many in the media, especially the Toronto-based business press, keep telling Canadians that the NEB is an independent, quasi-judicial body, that carefully weighs the scientific and other evidence before coming to a conclusion.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands up in Question Period and from his prepared script also claims the JRP and NEB are independent bodies.
Most of those writing about the attitude of the National Energy Board have never attended a single hearing, As for the Joint Review,. those from the major media who did attend were only there for the opening and closing sessions.
In British Columbia, those attended the Northern Gateway Joint Review sessions saw a strange and arcane bureaucratic system with rules of evidence and procedure often tilted toward a proponent in the energy sector.
Those rules of evidence were created for the cosy club atmosphere of the NEB in Calgary where mostly there are friendly hearings attended only by the proponents and energy sector lawyers. Those same rules were infuriating to those in northwest British Columbia trying and failing to persuade the JRP to take seriously many of the concerns of the region. The rules of evidence and procedure were baffling to lawyers practicing in BC; even the highly experienced lawyers from the BC Department of Justice were chewed out by the JRP in Prince George for not following proper procedures.
The JRP seemed to believe that time stopped at the evidentiary deadline, and although it acknowledged that Northern Gateway was a 50 year project, the panel didn’t need to know anything new.
A careful reading of the two volumes of the Joint Review Panel report and decision clearly shows that JRP finding was not, as one columnist called it, a triumph of science over emotion, but a proceeding that was biased from the outset to find in favour of Enbridge. It is clear that even though the Joint Review Panel did impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway, reading those almost 500 pages one sees time and time again that Northern Gateway’s evidence and assurances were accepted at face value, while the panel treated the evidence and testimony from opponents with a much higher level of skepticism.
Moving to Calgary
One of my sources once told me that the “NEB is nothing more than an extension of the Petroleum Club.” In the 1991 budget, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney moved the NEB headquarters from Ottawa to Calgary as a political gift to Alberta.
At that time the move was also seen as practical, Alberta was still complaining no one in Ottawa was listening to it. So if the Conservative government moved the NEB to Calgary, it would be there listening to the oil patch. NEB offices were scattered across the country, consolidating them in Calgary seemed, at the time, to be a way of saving taxpayers’ money and enhancing internal communications.
Seen now, about 25 years later, it’s clear the NEB move from its Ottawa headquarters and regional offices to Calgary was a disaster waiting to happen. Over the past quarter century, despite its claims of independence, the NEB and its staff have become so embedded in the oil patch energy culture of Calgary that (probably subconsciously) the NEB has shown that it is largely incapable of really taking seriously the culture of British Columbia on issues such as the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan projects. The NEB Calgary culture is also colliding,with the concerns and culture of other parts of the country as diluted bitumen pipelines head eastward.
The Conservative omnibus bills that gutted environmental protection and speed up the review process has made things much worse–at least until this week.
Now the Supreme Court has sent a shot across the bow of the full steam ahead National Energy Board, compelling the board to put much more weight on the concerns of First Nations.
The decision upholding the Tsilhqot’in claim to its traditional territory means the NEB and any future joint review panel (whether involving multiple federal agencies or federal agencies and a province) are going to have to take the concerns of First Nations and indeed all Canadians a lot more seriously—and the future of the planet as well, as described in the first part of this analysis. Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin wrote that on First Nations` traditional territory:
that it is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations. This means it cannot be alienated except to the Crown or encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it.
“Future generations” is the key phrase.
Future generations could undermine that whole world view of the Joint Review Panel, since the panel so casually dismissed the fears of a major disaster on the coast, saying it was “unlikely” and could be “mitigated.”
The JRP basically had a so-what attitude to British Columbia, arguing that since parts of the British Columbia environment had already been degraded any future environmental problems would be minimal and could be “mitigated.”
While in the introduction to its definition of the Public Interest, the JRP says
If approved and built, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project could operate for 50 years or more. Sustainable development was an important factor in our environmental assessment and our consideration of the public interest. The project would have to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations.
Sounds like that might match the Chief Justice. But, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. And just a few paragraphs later, the JRP says:
Our assessment of the project’s effects on residents and communities Considering Northern Gateway’s project design, its commitments, and our conditions, we concluded that the project’s potential effects on people’s land, water, and resource use could be mitigated. We were not persuaded that construction and routine operations of the project would have a negative effect on the social fabric of communities in the project area. We also were not persuaded that the project would adversely affect the health and well being of people and communities along the route or in coastal areas. We found that the net overall economic effects of the project would be positive and would provide potential benefits and opportunities to those individuals and businesses that choose to participate in the project.
The JRP’s attitude toward a major disaster was “trust Enbridge.”
We found that some level of risk is inherent in the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, and that no party could guarantee that a large spill would not occur. We found that a large spill, due to a malfunction or accident, from the pipeline facilities, terminal, or tankers, is not likely.
We found that Northern Gateway has taken steps to minimize the likelihood of a large spill through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems, such as its commitments to address human error, equipment failures, and its corporate safety culture. These commitments and all others made by the company
Oh well, the ecosystem will recover eventually—a conclusion that could be reached only by ignoring the evidence from Prince William Sound, site of the Exxon Valdez spill.
We found that, in the unlikely event of a large oil spill, there will be significant adverse environmental effects, and that functioning ecosystems recover through mitigation and natural processes.
We found that a large oil spill would not cause permanent, widespread damage to the environment. The extent of the significant adverse effects would depend on the circumstances associated with the spill. Scientific research from past spill events indicates that the environment recovers to a state that supports functioning ecosystems similar to those existing before the spill. We found that, in the unlikely event of a large oil spill, there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by residents, communities, and Aboriginal groups.
We found that, in rare circumstances, a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill. Scientific research from a past spill event indicates that this will not impact the recovery of functioning ecosystems.
In other words, some communities, probably aboriginal communities, would have be sacrificed in the public interest and the economics of Alberta while the economy of that part of British Columbia would be destroyed.
Will the JRP have to start over?
The environmental law community and First Nations leaders are already taking a look at another paragraph in the Supreme Court judgement. Paragraph 92 in lawyer speak.
One of the many reports comes from West Coast Environmental Law which noted in an e-mail
[T]he Tsilhqot’in decision, Canada’s highest court brings home the implications of this for Enbridge and other project proponents:
Once title is established, it may be necessary for the Crown to reassess prior conduct in light of the new reality in order to faithfully discharge its fiduciary duty to the title-holding group going forward.
For example, if the Crown begins a project without consent prior to Aboriginal title being established, it may be required to cancel the project upon establishment of the title if continuation of the project would be unjustifiably infringing.
And what about the overhaul of environmental legislation in 2012 to smooth the way for pipeline and other industrial development?
The court notes: “Similarly, if legislation was validly enacted before title was established, such legislation may be rendered inapplicable going forward to the extent that it unjustifiably infringes Aboriginal title.”
In other words, the Supreme Court decision resets everything.
It could nullify the recent decision by the Prime Minister to permit the Northern Gateway to go ahead. Or it could mean, especially given the number of court challenges just to the JRP, that, in light of the Tsilhqot’in decision the panel will be ordered by a court to go back to the drawing board and reconsider its findings.
Then there are the pending challenges to the Harper decision allowing the Northern Gateway to go ahead. Sources told Northwest Coast Energy News that the first of a number of court challenges were to be filed last week. It is likely that after the holiday weekend, lawyers will be rewriting their filings and their briefs in light of the Tsilhqot’in decision and presenting the Federal Court with those challenges some time in July.
The justices of the Supreme Court did allow a public interest exemption on the use of First Nations land for a larger purpose, but there must now be genuine consultation and the public interest will likely have be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it can’t just be the whim of a prime minister with a tame, unquestioning caucus who decides what is in the public interest.
Who consults whom?
In the decision, Chief Justice McLaughlin wrote:
Governments and individuals proposing to use or exploit land, whether before or after a declaration of Aboriginal title, can avoid a charge of infringement or failure to adequately consult by obtaining the consent of the interested Aboriginal group
The right to control the land conferred by Aboriginal title means that governments and others seeking to use the land must obtain the consent of the Aboriginal title holders. If the Aboriginal group does not consent to the use, the government’s only recourse is to establish that the proposed incursion on the land is justified under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Compare that again with what the JRP said. As with the environmental impact it begins by saying:
The Panel finds that the magnitude, extent, and potential impacts of this project required an extensive program of public consultation. The Panel considers thorough and effective consultation to be a process that is inclusive of, and responsive to, all potentially-affected groups and individuals.
Then the JRP says:
The Panel notes that, among potentially-affected parties, there were differing perspectives on what constitutes a thorough and effective process of consultation. There were also different views among some parties about how consultation should occur, and their roles and responsibilities during consultation.
The Panel believes that it is critical for all parties to recognize and understand their respective roles and responsibilities for achieving effective dialogue during consultation. The Panel noted the principles of thorough and effective consultation at the beginning of this chapter. The Panel finds that these principles require that a process must provide timely, appropriate, and effective opportunities for all potentially-affected parties to learn about a project, provide their comments and concerns, and to discuss how these can be addressed by the applicant.
So what does it mean?
The JRP starts off by giving Northern Gateway a slap on the wrist:
The applicant [Enbridge] must be genuinely responsive. Affected parties have an ongoing and mutual responsibility to respond to opportunities for consultation, to communicate concerns they may have, and to discuss how these can be addressed.
But then it goes on in the same paragraph:
Consultation requires trust, mutual respect, and relationship-building. All parties have an obligation to seek a level of cultural fluency, in order to better understand the values, customs, needs, and preferences of the other parties involved in the consultation process. All parties may be required to adjust their expectations in response to the information, concerns, and interests raised and considered through the process. The Panel observed that this approach did not always occur in this proceeding.
Get the phrase “all parties.” It is clear here that the JRP is taking on the First Nations and other opponents for not seeing Northern Gateway’s point of view, since it accepts, as seen below, Northern Gateway’s contention that it is doing a good job with consultation,
And the word “trust.” Again the Alberta-bound JRP (the panel had no members from British Columbia, two from Alberta, one from Ontario) are saying “trust Enbridge.”
Unfortunately after a decade of operating in the northwest, and despite its spin, Enbridge has failed time and time again to establish trust with First Nations and it has equally failed to establish trust with a significant number non-aboriginal residents of the northwest.
The companies developing LNG projects have, for the most part, established a level of trust.
The joke up here is now so old it’s a cliche (but still unknown to the eastern media) where an LNG executive says, “We look at what Enbridge did and do the exact opposite.”
The Panel accepts Northern Gateway’s view that consultation is a process which should ensure that all parties are better informed through consultation, and that it involves being prepared to amend proposals in light of information received. In this regard, the Panel notes that Northern Gateway made numerous changes to the design and operation of the project in response to input provided by the public, landowners, governments, and stakeholders
In fact, Northern Gateway is still fumbling the ball.
It is true that Northern Gateway did change its plans and put another $500 million into the plans for the project–after a lot of public pressure and growing controversy during the JRP hearings over its plans.
Equally telling was Northern Gateway’s dismissal in its final arguments (arguments accepted by the JRP) that there was no earthquake hazard in the region, despite two major earthquakes at Haida Gwaii and southern Alaska just months earlier, both of which shook Kitimat.
In the final oral arguments, Northern Gateway’s lawyer Richard Neufeld summarily dismissed the fears of the Haida and Heiltskuk First Nations about destruction of the herring spawning beds because, he said, first, the chances of a tanker disaster were unlikely and second, even if there was a tanker disaster it was even more unlikely that it would occur during the spawning season. (Not that the spawning season matters, herring beds in San Francisco Bay are still damaged years after a spill there).
Now with the Tsilhqot’in decision, Enbridge can no longer summarily dismiss those fears. The companies who have proposed liquefied natural gas projects are meeting with anyone, including avowed opponents, and opening dialogues, even if both sides continue to disagree. Despite its spin, accepted by the political pundits and eastern business media, those who live in the northwest know Northern Gateway’s consultations and engagement, so far, have mostly been with friendly groups and friendly audiences.
The Supreme Court decision is going to change that attitude in the coming weeks. If Enbridge wants Northern Gateway to go ahead, the company is going to have to genuinely engage with First Nations. Given all the damage created by Enbridge over the past decade, that engagement is unlikely to change anything.
The Supreme Court decision is going to have one more consequence.
Eventually, in a few years, the decision will negate that stupid attitude from the conservative media and some in the business community that the people of northwestern British Columbia are against all development. That was never true but it’s a convenient excuse for those columnists and conservatives not to question their own assumptions.
If the reporters and columnists had bothered to come up here, if the press-release dispatching business leaders had bothered to leave their executive suites, they’d know what northwestern BC wants is responsible and sustainable development, not quick in and out profits.
The Supreme Court decision means that any future industrial development in the northwest will be much different from anything seen in the past because First Nations must be involved from the beginning.
Given its sorry track record, it is unlikely that Enbridge will be part of that development. but others will profit, yes profit, from that failure.
In the coming years it is also likely that there will be a new approach to development from the National Energy Board after they begin to see their narrow oil-patch friendly approach and rulings struck down by the courts quoting the Tsilhqot’in decision.
There’s one question about the Enbridge Northern Gateway project that many people ask and few can answer: Who is responsible for the port of Kitimat? Who would be liable should there be a disaster in the port? Nobody really knows.
If there’s a dispute, the question of responsibility and liability would probably end up in the Supreme Court of Canada, with the justices sorting out a historic puzzle. Or perhaps that historical puzzle could mean that the future of the port of Kitimat might be decided by the next B.C. provincial election.
Most of the other harbours in Canada are the responsibility of Ports Canada, a branch of Transport Canada or run by (usually not-for-profit) semi-public port corporations or local harbour commissions.
To find out why Kitimat is one of the few private ports in Canada, the first thing to do is watch Eliza Kazan and Bud Schulberg’s classic 1954 multiple Oscar winning movie, On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando, about how the mob ran the New York docks.
What has On the Waterfront got to do with Kitimat? It goes back to when the then Aluminum Company of Canada/Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan) was planning the Kitimat project; much of that work was done in New York both by employees and consultants. It was in 1949, that Malcolm Johnson, a New York Sun reporter, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning series of investigative reports called “Crime on the Waterfront,” exposing corruption and Mafia involvement with the docks and the longshoremans’ union. The movie was based, in part, on that investigative series.
So in its planning, Alcan was determined that the longshore unions would not be involved in running the docks in Kitimat. The publicly stated reason has always been that Alcan wanted a seamless 24/7 operation that would be integrated with the aluminum smelter. Alcan would sign a collective agreement with the United Steelworkers that covered both the smelter and the docks. (CAW 2301 now represents most of the workers at the Kitimat smelter.)
When the Kitimat project was being finalized in 1949 and 1950 at the height of the Cold War, aluminum was a strategic commodity, security was high on the agenda, and it was not just the Soviet bloc but the mob as well that worried the authorities.
Add two factors. First, in 1949 the province of British Columbia was anxious to promote what would today be called a “mega-project.” Second, in the post-war era when corporations were relatively enlightened compared to today, Alcan was determined not to create the traditional “company town.”
To promote private-sector development of both hydro-electricity and aluminum, B.C. signed a rather loosely worded agreement with Alcan, noting that the project was going on “without investment by or risk to the government.” That agreement was implemented by the Legislative Assembly of B.C. by an equally wide open Industrial Development Act. One aim of both was try to ensure that future “socialists” would not expropriate the project.
With the province handing over the Crown land at the head of Douglas Channel at a very nominal price to Alcan, next came the creation of the District of Kitimat. With the town under construction, with few buildings and a small population, under normal B.C. practice, the area would be “unincorporated” and would not have a municipal government. But Alcan and the province came up with a new concept, which they called “an industrial township,” which would allow a municipal government to be established in anticipation of future growth.
The act that established the District of Kitimat put the boundaries outside the land owned by Alcan (excluding land reserved for the Haisla Nation).
The District of Kitimat has some legal responsibility for “wharfs” at the port of Kitimat. At council meetings, the environmental group, Douglas Channel Watch, has raised the question of the district’s responsibility and liability in case of an Enbridge incident but there’s been no definitive response from district staff. There is no municipal harbour commission as there is in other jurisdictions.
Up until recently, it was a convenient arrangement for everyone involved. Alcan, Eurocan and Methanex ran their dock operations without any interference, beyond standard Transport Canada oversight.
Things began to change in 2007, when the Rio Tinto Group bought Alcan, creating Rio Tinto Alcan. A couple of years ago, a senior staff source in the Canadian Auto Workers explained it to me it this way. “Alcan was a big corporation, but Alcan was a corporation with a big stake in Canada. As a union, we could do business with them. Rio Tinto is a transnational corporation with businesses in lots of countries but no stake in any of them. So it’s a lot harder now.”
With the Rio Tinto acquisition of Alcan, things tightened up in Kitimat. Negotiations between the District and RTA for the District to obtain more land stalled. Access to the estuary and other RTA lands that had been somewhat open under Alcan became more restrictive. In 2010, the Eurocan paper mill shut down along with its dock. In 2011, Rio Tinto bought the dock from West Fraser, owner of Eurocan. The Kitimat community noted that when the dock was repainted, it said just “Rio Tinto.” not “Rio Tinto Alcan” and that led to lots of gossip and wondering about what the Rio Tinto Group really plans for Kitimat. Last fall, Shell Canada purchased the former Methanex dock for part of its liquified natural gas operations.
With the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the BC LNG project at North Cove and the KM LNG project at Bish Cove all along the shore of Douglas Channel and within the boundaries of the District of Kitimat which extends as far south as Jesse Lake, the question that has to be asked is, what happens now? If the Enbridge project is built, it will start just beyond the boundaries of the land owned by Rio Tinto Alcan.
That old arrangement between Alcan and the District of Kitimat is facing many new challenges.
The district once had a harbour master, but the position was eliminated because he had nothing to do. Alcan owned its docks, Alcan managed the docks and Alcan union employees worked on the docks. Later came the Eurocan (now owned by Rio Tinto) and Methanex (now owned by Shell) docks, again owned and operated by private corporations.
The District of Kitimat, nominally in charge, was content to sit back and collect taxes.
With the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the B.C. LNG project at North Cove and the KM LNG project at Bish Cove all along the shore of Douglas Channel and within the boundaries of the District of Kitimat, the question that has to be asked is, what happens now? If the Enbridge project is built, it will start just beyond the boundaries of the land owned by Rio Tinto Alcan.
In Canada, ports and harbours are normally under federal jurisdiction and Transport Canada has oversight. But Alcan’s “private port” and the District of Kitimat were created by acts passed by the B.C. government.
The original agreement between the province and Alcan mentions an “aluminum plant” and “low-cost electrical power,” it doesn’t mention bitumen or liquified natural gas. Those provincial acts do not cover bitumen, supertankers and liquified natural gas.
B.C. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix has made it clear that his New Democratic Party opposes the Northern Gateway project. The federal government has said the province can’t really do anything to stop Enbridge Northern Gateway once Stephen Harper has decided that the pipeline project is in the national interest.
So, if, as expected, Adrian Dix becomes the next B.C. premier, he has one very strong hand to play. Any act can, with proper legal advice, be amended by the B.C. legislature. That means the “socialists” so feared by Alcan and the premier of the day, Byron “Boss” Johnson, could alter the 1949 law. That in turn may upset the decades-old arrangement that created the private port which Enbridge is banking on.
Someone has to speak for Kitimat on the Northern Gateway project.
The District of Kitimat Council no longer has a choice. It’s time to play hardball with Ottawa and Enbridge on the Northern Gateway Pipeline.
You can’t negotiate from a position of weakness.
The game of pipelines changed forever in recent weeks, when the Conservative government introduced Bill C-38, the Budget Implementation Act.
Bill C-38, which passed Second Reading on May 14, 2012 is an affront to basic democratic principles, a 425 page omnibus monster that will not permit the kind of careful consideration of major changes in Canadian society that what was once normal in a free and democratic society. The omnibus bill not only concerns the federal budget but also repeals the environmental assessment process and guts fisheries protection for the smaller spawning streams where salmon are born. By giving the federal cabinet the power to overrule the National Energy Board, the decision on the pipeline rests with just one man, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has made no secret that he intends to push the project through no matter how fierce the opposition to the project.
This week has seen devastating cutbacks along the west coast, to environmental monitoring and pollution control, to Coast Guard protection. It is now clear that protection of the environment along the BC coast and the lives of the mariners who sail those waters are of little importance to Ottawa, and of no importance to the war room types counting votes in Alberta and suburban ridings outside Toronto and Vancouver.
The District of Kitimat Council has voted to wait to make a decision until after the report of the Joint Review Panel, when “all information” is available.
The Joint Review Panel has lost all credibility. Even if the JRP does produce a fair and honest report with valid recommendations for conditions and restrictions, it is highly unlikely that those recommendations will be fully implemented, because the final decision will be made in the Prime Minster’s Office and that decision will be build, baby, build.
Media reports in recent months have shown that Enbridge has easy access to the senior levels of the Conservative government and Enbridge lobbying preceded the changes to the Fisheries Act in Bill C-38. Enbridge walks the halls of power in Ottawa. Kitimat, on the other hand, counts for little, as the JRP schedule clearly shows.
So, for example, even if the Joint Review Panel recommends strict conditions on the pipeline to insure the safety of Kitimat’s water supply, and if Enbridge doesn’t like those conditions, there is no guarantee that Harper and the cabinet will implement those recommendations. That would leave the District of Kitimat holding the water barrel for several years.
(One of the many reasons, it seems, that the JRP wants to have all the northwest hearings is in Prince Rupert is so the high-priced energy lawyers from Calgary can have comfortable accommodation. So, if any protests from the District and the Haisla Nation are successful and there actually are final hearings in Kitimat, perhaps the District could arrange for the lawyers to camp in Radley Park, so they can actually grasp the realities of living in Kitimat by the Kitimat River.)
The District of Kitimat Council has a duty to make sure that this region is protected.
So what does this mean?
It is now too late for the District Council to take a position for or against the pipeline. It no longer matters whether Mayor and Councillors support the pipeline, are sitting on the fence or oppose the pipeline. Bill C-38 has made the decision for the Council.
Council must assume that Stephen Harper will impose the pipeline on Kitimat and will impose conditions that could be determinable to the District in favour of Alberta and Enbridge.
From now on Council must unify and work to protect the District from Stephen Harper. The Council must make sure that the District is an aggressive force at any negotiating table or court battle.
That means Council should retain its position of neutrality, leaving opposition to the pipeline to others like Douglas Channel Watch. Given the growing witch hunt against the environmental movement, an official position of neutrality is negotiating from a position of strength and protects the District from any accusation that “radicals” are distorting the District’s position.
In international affairs, countries like Switzerland and Sweden are neutral, robustly neutral. Both Switzerland and Sweden practice what is called “armed neutrality.”
“Armed neutrality” means that Kitimat Council can no longer continue its current wishy-washy neutrality, arguing over the nuances of words in letters to the Joint Review Panel and Enbridge. To protect Kitimat, Council must adopt its own policy of “armed neutrality,” an aggressive stance that represents the entire community, both opponents and supporters of the pipeline.
The District must immediately start paying much closer attention to the all the relevant documents that are filed with the Joint Review Panel. The District Council and staff must have their own independent advisers rather than juggling the views of Douglas Channel Watch and Enbridge and hoping for the best. That means hiring more professionals to supplement current staff that will understand the technicalities of both the Enbridge pipeline and the LNG projects; staff who can advise the senior administration and Council about how to proceed where the issues of the pipeline construction, terminal construction and management of the terminal come under municipal jurisdiction or could adversely affect the municipality.
That takes money, even though money is tight, Council must budget for that staff. When it comes to negotiating factors within the responsibility of the municipality, Kitimat must be at the table at full strength.
All the way to the Supreme Court
It is now certain that after Stephen Harper orders the pipeline to go ahead, disputes over the Northern Gateway Pipeline will end up in the courts. Lawyers are already talking about the constitutional necessity to consult First Nations, that pushing the pipeline across aboriginal traditional territory will violate Rights and Title.
First Nations across British Columbia are already represented by some of the best lawyers in Canada.
Vancouver is already looking at what powers a municipality has to make sure that city is fully protected in case of a catastrophic tanker accident from the Kinder Morgan pipeline and project.
Yes, the District is wary because of the long and bitter fight over power allocation, but that is in the past. Again Bill C-38 gives the District no choice but to prepare for new legal battles, probably all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The District of Kitimat must immediately budget for, seek out, retain and instruct a law firm that can advise the District on its rights and responsibilities now and in the future once the Harper government imposes the pipeline on Kitimat. As we have seen from the Joint Review and other National Energy Board hearings, the energy industry hires the best lawyers money can buy.
If Kitimat has to face those lawyers, the District can’t act like a Junior B team facing the NHL All-Stars. That law firm should be able to advise Kitimat on the constitutional issues involved and what powers a municipality has to protect the community from unwanted and unwarranted aspects of pipeline and tanker development. That law firm must also be able to participate in hardball business negotiations.
The District must build better bridges with the Haisla Nation and find where there is common ground in the Kitimat region as Stephen Harper imposes the pipeline on the northwest. They may be arguments before the courts or with Enbridge where both the Haisla and the District of Kitimat are allies in a fight.
Stephen Harper and his government are prepared to impose the pipeline, terminals and tanker traffic on northwestern British Columbia, again no matter what local municipalities and regions say. All the environmental and Coast Guard safeguards that might have brought acceptance of the Enbridge project are being cut to the bone. That means Kitimat must also forge alliances with those municipalities and regions, again to make sure that local rights and responsibilities are fully protected once the government decides to impose the pipeline on the northwest.
It is highly likely that the constitutional consultation and Rights and Title cases on the pipeline will end up at the Supreme Court of Canada. If there are other cases, perhaps raised by Vancouver or other Lower Mainland or northern communities or even the Province of British Columbia, it may be that the Supreme Court, as it has with some cases in the past, could consolidate all the pipeline cases into one. That means Kitimat will need to be a participant in any case on the pipeline before the Supreme Court.
Unless District of Kitimat Council starts playing hardball, Stephen Harper will drive a bulldozer down bank of the Kitimat River to Douglas Channel, ignoring the council standing and watching from the hill looking over the pipeline trench.