First published in VICE (April 8, 2013) by Dave Dean ☛ It would appear the Federal Conservatives and their oil lobbying chums aren’t only muzzling scientists, they’re putting the ball gag in everyone’s mouth. When Bill C-38 passed last spring, it essentially gutted whatever substantial environmental laws were left hampering oil production and transportation. But it also quietly created an absolutely undemocratic barrier to anyone wanting to voice their concerns. Enbridge’s recently proposed a reversal to their Line 9 pipeline that converts the pipeline’s capabilities to flow Alberta crude eastward, and passes it through some of the most heavily populated areas of Ontario and Quebec. It goes by farms, by schools, and over every major river that flows directly into Lake Ontario. It also happens to be the first proposal that will be reviewed by the National Energy Board under Bill C-38’s new regulations.
Under these new laws, if anyone who isn’t on the board wants to even comment on the discussions, let alone participate, they must first “apply for permission.” What does that entail exactly? Well, only filling out an obscure 10 page application, along with sending in a copy of your resume as well as references. It’s also worth pointing out that the National Energy Board doesn’t even review environmental effects, but only the feasibility of the building of a project. An appropriately perturbed Keith Stewart, of Greenpeace Canada framed his concerns as such, “Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community? 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.”
And not just anybody can apply to comment, no. You have to be some kind of industry expert or live along the 639-km pipeline route to even be so lucky as to get your background checked out. They word this as having to have “relevant information” related to the pipeline, or by being “directly affected.” These terms are conveniently vague, so I got in touch with Brenda Belak, a lawyer and aboriginal law expert in Vancouver who has also been looking at the impacts of Bill C-38, to try and figure out exactly what “directly affected” means in this case.
“What we’re seeing that you’re going through with Line 9 out there is a very constrained, restricted opportunity for public input… a number of changes under Bill C-38 lever out the opportunity for anyone to get involved, and we don’t really know yet (what ‘directly affected means’). It hasn’t been challenged that much. The way we figure out what things really mean, is often when somebody says, ‘well, hold on a second, I’m going to take you to court. Because I don’t agree, and it’s important we have a judge look at it.’ What it could mean is that your land, land to which you hold a deed is going to be directly impacted, or if you’re a first nation that is directly on the route. The pipelines going to cut through your reserve, or your traditional territory.”
But by this logic, it kind of figures that if all those rivers could be “directly affected” by an oil spill, wouldn’t that then “directly affect” Lake Ontario? And then wouldn’t that imply all Torontonians essentially also being ‘directly affected’ by Line 9? That’s the water the city drinks. To that, Brenda says: “You could argue that. Maybe you should argue that. I don’t know if that’s the way they’re going to interpret it or not. Because of the ways they look at waterways because of the changes to the navigable waters protection act (which the oil lobby’s paw-prints are all over), and you know, the fact that in the navigable waters protection act you used to have a certain way of defining what kind of a work can trigger an investment before it was built over a stream or whatever, and now, instead, you have a list of water bodies in Canada, and if that water body isn’t on the list, it’s not considered protected under that act.”
Either way, it would be the board that would determine whether an application was valid in the first place. On what basis it is ridiculously unclear. Also, despite calls by Environmental Defence demanding that Liberal Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley and Federal Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent step in to establish an environmental review of the project, it is hard to find comments from either. What isn’t hard to see is that these new measures are just more evidence of Harper and the oil industry’s desire to operate with a clear runway, without the trifling inconveniences of rigorous environmental reviews or thorough public consultation. This Conservative Majority government is doing it’s best to convince citizens of the futility of protest and is somehow doing it legally, no matter how obviously tyrannical. And if you can’t succeed in stopping some pipeline modifications, think there’s any chance of ever seeing proportional representation and getting them out of there? Follow Dave on Twitter: @ddner.