As regulatory hearings begin around a controversial oil pipeline expansion project in British Columbia, indigenous protesters are calling on Canada’s prime minister to follow through on promises to fix what they say is a flawed assessment process.
Some are also demanding a complete overhaul of the National Energy Board—a federal pipeline regulator—saying the previous government created an unfair process that is stacked in industry’s favor.
The National Energy Board is at a hotel in Burnaby, near Vancouver, gathering testimony over a total of 10 days from people who would be affected by Kinder Morgan’s $5.4 billion proposal to nearly triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. The hearings are scheduled to conclude in Calgary in February.
Dozens of people gathered on the first day of the hearings, January 19, to rally against the process. Among them were First Nations representatives from both sides of the U.S.–Canada border, local politicians, and environmentalists. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs called the hearings “fundamentally flawed” and “fraudulent," calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take action.
“The outstanding question of today is, ‘Prime Minister Trudeau, where are you?’ ” he said. “We are mindful of the promises that were made during the last federal election. We call on Prime Minister Trudeau to follow through on those promises.”
In his campaign leading up to the October 19 vote, Trudeau vowed to immediately review Canada’s environmental assessment process and “modernize” the composition of the National Energy Board. The board’s makeup has been criticized for including a number of oil and gas executives appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Under Trudeau, the Liberal government is still trying to figure out what to do about Harper’s stacked future appointments to the National Energy Board, according to the news website iPolitics, with one potential solution to be disbanding it.
Lower Nicola Indian Band Chief Aaron Sam and Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson said they are so fed up with the process that they will not bother giving their scheduled testimony.
“The National Energy Board process does not take our considerations seriously,” Sam said. “It does not take into consideration the rights of indigenous people. It doesn’t take into serious consideration taking care of the environment, our salmon, our animals, our water, and we’re not going to take part in a process that has a predetermined outcome.”
Wilson said the National Energy Board is “only industries hearing what they want to hear” and needs to be completely overhauled. She said she knows elders who have previously withdrawn from the process because of similar frustrations.
“The government fails to hear us, the National Energy Board fails to hear us, and everyone fails to hear those words that our ancestors spoke,” she said. “I don’t think any of our [previous] oral statements made it anywhere. I don’t think any of it was read, I don’t think any of it was even understood.”
Meanwhile, members of the Lummi First Nation in Washington State, who have long stood with Vancouver-area First Nations to oppose the pipeline expansion, are expected to present to the National Energy Board later this week. Lummi elder Jewell James said his nation is afraid of possible adverse environmental impacts and that many believe the process must be slowed down.
“We’re very upset with regards to the failure to adequately consult with the Indian nations of the United States,” he said. “We have a border between us but the pollution will cross over into both jurisdictions and they have to slow down and reconsider the decisions that they have in their hands.”