In a move widely seen as an attempt to quell resistance to the expansion of British Columbia's controversial Kinder Morgan oil pipeline, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday announced a new three-member ministerial review panel—with no veto power—that is meant to supplement the National Energy Board's (NEB) much-maligned analysis of the project.
The panel is intended as a fulfillment of Trudeau's Liberal party's campaign promises to expand environmental reviews of upcoming pipeline projects—but critics decried the effort as nothing more than a "smokescreen."
The NEB will release its recommendation as to whether the pipeline expansion is "in the public interest" on Friday. "If approved, the twin lines would carry nearly 900,000 barrels of crude a day starting in 2018," notes CBC.
The new three-person review team, titled the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project panel, will conduct an additional environmental review and consult with affected First Nations and local communities from June until November.
But critics note that the pipeline review process has still not fulfilled the Canadian law's requirements that the federal government honor its "duty to consult" affected First Nations and that "free, prior, and informed consent" be in place for projects on First Nations' traditional territory—and the new panel, with no power to override the NEB's decision on the pipeline, will do little to ease such concerns.
In anticipation of the NEB decision, kayaktivists in Vancouver blocked an oil tanker from entering the harbor on Wednesday afternoon.
— 350 Canada (@350Canada) May 18, 2016
The proposed pipeline expansion will increase tanker traffic in the region from about 70 per year to 400, as Common Dreams reported.
For many environmentalists and First Nations, the announcement was further evidence that Trudeau is reversing campaign promises and turning his time in office into nothing more than a continuation of Harper's pro-pipeline tenure.
"New Democrat Kennedy Stewart, the MP for Burnaby South, which is ground-zero for Trans Mountain protests," reported the Globe and Mail, "said the Liberals are breaking an election promise to 'redo the Kinder Morgan pipeline review.'"
Stewart condemned the panel review as "little more than a smokescreen."
The review process has been "flawed from the start," said Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust Initiative manager Rueben George to the North Shore News. The Tseil-Waututh First Nation has opposed the project and the NEB's review process for years. George told the newspaper that "Trudeau knows the public doesn't trust the NEB decision."
"We know it's bad but it's hard to unscramble a scrambled egg," George said.
The North Shore News reported on some of the local contentiousness surrounding NEB's approval process and the Tsleil-Waututh's opposition to it:
In 2014, the Tsleil-Waututh filed a lawsuit against the National Energy Board, the federal government and Trans Mountain that argued they had not been properly consulted.
The newly elected federal government asked for a stay in that case in January in order to meet with the Tsleil-Waututh and re-evaluate whether it would continue the court battle. Since then, there were only cursory meetings and the federal government opted to maintain its position in the case.
"I wouldn't call them meetings because our chief wasn’t there. It wasn't the proper consultation," George said, noting the band did not get the opportunity to present its own assessment of the project and its risks.
While the new panel's members have a background in First Nations legal rights and consultation—and one member is a First Nations chief—without veto power and input from First Nation in its formation, the panel's existence is essentially meaningless, say critics. "Our consultation is called nation-to-nation," as George told CBC.
George said that his First Nation was prepared to take the government to court again, if necessary.