The Province – August 30, 2016
When the Canadian government decided to throw together last-minute public meetings on the proposed Kinder Morgan diluted bitumen pipeline and tankers in the dog days of summer, they may have thought that the meetings would float serenely under the radar.
July and August are possibly the two worst months in the year for public meetings. Many of us are in holiday mode with kids out of school, time off from work and the glorious weather beckoning us to head out into B.C.’s great outdoors. I for one would rather be thinking about barbecues and beach time than the transportation of bitumen.
Everything about the public meetings suggested they would be poorly attended. There was next to no advance notice. Municipal city councillors found out about the meetings on Facebook. The dates changed. The online process to register was unwieldy and confusing. Many communities were excluded. The meetings had an ad hoc feel and it wasn’t clear to anyone how the government would use the information it compiled, or even if or how it would be compiled.
Despite all of this, more than 1,700 people gave up precious hours of their summer to pack the meetings. People had been denied a voice in the politically tainted National Energy Board hearings and were motivated to have their voices finally heard. They were undeterred by the new process’s flaws and poor organization. A total of 457 people voiced their views, and in Vancouver and Victoria there were many who signed up to speak that the panel didn’t make time to hear from. The vast majority of those who spoke at each meeting (91.4 per cent) were against the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that “governments grant permits, communities grant permission.” All along the pipeline route the people have now spoken and permission has definitely not been granted.
The public meetings provide the prime minister with an excellent opportunity to make a change in policy direction. His government now has community backing to drop its support for Kinder Morgan and bring Canada’s economic policy into alignment with his commitments on climate. It is a change that would make economic as well as environmental sense.
The evidence suggests Canada can have its low carbon future and eat its economic growth cake, too, but only if it turns its back on huge investments in dirty energy projects like Kinder Morgan. Otherwise, we will not be able to compete in a decarbonizing world.
Government support for dirty projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline involves much more than just rubber stamping energy board and environmental assessments. Nearly $7 billion per year is handed out in subsidies to the sector. In a time of federal deficits and difficult financial decisions, subsidizing dirty industries needs to be weighed against areas of real need, with clean energy and green jobs high on the list.
Tax breaks and subsidies in support of renewables could position Canada to take economic advantage of the global trend in that direction. Support for projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline send the opposite message and leave Canada vulnerable to isolation as a country too invested in extractive industries and less able to transition into the new economy.
The people of B.C. have spoken in the Kinder Morgan public meetings. They prefer a commitment to real sunny ways, without the fossil-fuel haze and economic malaise of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The Trudeau government has been given an opening to realign itself with the wave of change that swept it into office last October. Saying no to Kinder Morgan would be to say yes to our Paris climate commitments, to protection of B.C.’s environment and economy from the threat of catastrophic pipeline and tanker spills and to reposition B.C. and Canada as job-growth leaders in the emerging renewable energy economy.
Caitlyn Vernon is campaigns director for Sierra Club B.C.