Monday, September 9, 2013

Feds Spend Tax Money to Justify Northern Gateway Pipeline Project

The following text has been modified slightly from text which was recently submitted as a letter to the Editor of a local newspaper with general circulation in Greater Sudbury. At this time, it remains unpublished.


This past August, when asked about the approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the media that, “The government does not pick and choose particular projects; the projects have to be evaluated on their own merits.” Initially, those statements seemed to be in keeping with the National Energy Board’s joint panel review of Northern Gateway. However, it has come to light since then that the government has already determined Northern Gateway to be a “winner”, and has in fact spent approximately $100 million in taxpayers money to assist with the scientific review of Northern Gateway’s viability.

Andrew Weaver, British Columbia’s recently elected Green MLA, and Elizabeth May, MP, and Leader of the Green Party of Canada, recently revealed documents which show that the government has been conducting studies on the environmentally-sensitive northern B.C. coast. These studies will provide new scientific information regarding two matters which would be important for the future of bitumen transport: the safety of oil tanker traffic exiting the port of Kitimat, which is the designated terminus of Enbridge’s bitumen pipeline; and the behavior of bitumen spills in coastal waters. What these studies mean is that Canadian taxpayers are now assisting a multinational corporation worth billions of dollars in making its case for pipeline approval to the National Energy Board.

Normally, it is the proponent’s responsibility to make a case for an industrial project to an environmental review tribunal. Part of that responsibility includes the absorption of costs for studies. In the case of Northern Gateway, as Enbridge is relying on tankers exiting the port of Kitimat through the narrow Hecate Strait, one might have assumed that Enbridge would have picked up the tab for undertaking necessary safety and oil spill studies. But that’s not what is happening. Instead, our government has bullishly charged ahead, spending scarce taxpayers resources in the process, and doing Enbridge’s work for them. All of this at a time when scientific endeavours are being downsized throughout the nation.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has suggested that there isn’t anything wrong with the government helping Enbridge out, and that it is prudent to fund studies about tanker safety. What Minister Oliver fails to understand is that if there was no Enbridge proposal on the table, there would be no need to assess tanker traffic safety in the Hecate Strait, because the only reason tankers would have to be in the Strait in the first place would be to haul bitumen away from the Enbridge pipeline. No pipeline, no tankers, no need for a study.

Why then is our government spending tax dollars on tanker traffic studies for a private industrial project which might never happen? In response to Weaver and May, Minister Oliver reportedly stated that, “While the Green Party…oppose(s) resource development before the science is in, our government will not make decisions until an independent, scientific review determines they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.” Unfortunately, the actions of the government completely give lie to Minister Oliver’s, and the Prime Minister’s, words. It’s clear that the government has already made decisions and taken action by spending millions on studies to justify one specific pipeline, rather than acting as an independent, impartial reviewer.

Significant questions regarding government interference will now hang over the National Energy Board’s decision on the Northern Gateway project, which is expected later this year. If our government has already earmarked over $100 million to justify the project, can we really expect an impartial decision from the government-appointed review tribunal? Has the review process become nothing more than a public relations charade?

It is reprehensible that the government which we entrust to look after our hard-earned taxes would misuse our money to fund studies to help a multibillion dollar corporation make a case for a project which may never happen. It is clear that when it comes to economic stewardship, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is not acting in the best interests of hard-working Canadians.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

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