Federal government implements Orwellian rules to limit pipeline oversight

By D. T. Sands

Thursday, April 11, 2013

If there’s one thing the Harper government knows it’s this: If you don’t like the rules, just change ‘em. After gutting most of Canada’s federal environmental legislation to expedite tar sands development and pipeline proposals at the behest of the oil industry, now the federal government is making it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for members of the public to participate in the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of Enbridge’s proposal to reverse its Line 9 pipeline through southern Ontario and Quebec. The flow of the aging pipeline is being reversed so it can carry dangerous tar sands crude to the East Coast for export to Asia.

Under the new rules, which the NEB put in place at the direction of the federal government in response to overwhelming opposition from the public during the NEB’s review of the Northern Gateway pipeline, Ontario residents who live along the 639-kilometre pipeline route and want to submit public comments about their concerns – are you ready for it – fill out a long and complex application to ask permissionfrom the NEB, Canada’s pipeline regulator, before they can even submit a letter to the NEB on the Line 9 pipeline proposal.

That’s right. First, set aside your income tax return and spend a couple of days filling out a 10-page application, which includes enough of what the Toronto Star calls “cryptic hurdles” to stymie even the most experienced tax lawyer. Be ready, because you will be asked to describe, in detail, “your specific and detailed interest” in the Line 9 pipeline reversal project, including how you, and you alone, are “directly affected” and/or have “relevant information” to offer up. “Note,” it kindly reminds you, “that mere opposition to or support for the proposed Project will not be enough.” Oh, and don’t forget to include your resumé and some references (presumably high-ranking members of the Conservative Party would be your best bet), because not every average, run-of-the-mill citizen has the skills and experience to stick their noses in the oil industry’s business.

Then sit back, finish your taxes, and wait patiently for the paternalistic NEB, which makes it very clear that not all letters of comment will be accepted, to let you know if you’re worthy enough to participate. There’s no details on how the NEB will decide who’s in and who’s out, but that’s OK. The federal government has demonstrated quite clearly over the last year or two that it is an objective and unbiased arbiter of anything to do with the oil industry. Not.

“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. “Anyone who lives and works in southern Ontario could be affected by a spill and everyone is affected by climate change. The right to send a letter of comment and have it considered by public agencies is part of the basic rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy.”

The Ontario government agrees. As a result of the Orwellian attempt to limit public input, the province of Ontario has decided to step in and, on behalf of the Ontario public, seek intervener status over concerns about the pipeline, which  runs through the Greater Toronto Area. “It’s certainly a significant issue for the people who might be impacted, for the environmental concerns around the pipeline and therefore it’s a serious issue for the province,” Ontario Infrastructure and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said at a press conference. “We want to make sure that the interests of the people who might be affected are protected, that the environment will be protected, that the interests of First Nations will be protected in the process.”

Chiarelli, a former mayor of Ottawa, urged other levels of government, particularly those municipalities through which the pipeline runs, to get involved and register as interveners if they’re worried about the potential impacts of the pipeline proposal.

This problematic new process stems from federal Bill C-38 – the omnibus budget bill last spring that gutted federal environmental laws. Enbridge’s proposal for its Line 9 pipeline could allow dangerous tar sands oil to be shipped east through an aging pipeline that crosses some of the most heavily populated parts of Ontario and Quebec. This is the first new pipeline proposal to be up for approval since Bill C-38 passed last year.

Unhappy? Visit Environmental Defence’s website and ask the Ontario and Quebec governments to hold their own environmental assessments on the project. For those who want to voice your displeasure directly to the NEB, the board has kindly “appointed an official to help navigate the process.” His name is Michael Benson, and he can be reached at michael.benson@neb-one.gc.ca.