Editorial: Enbridge approval report worth reading

Less than a week before Christmas Day, the Joint Review Panel recommended the approval of the Enbridge Pipeline by the Federal government. Reactions have been as polarized as the preceding debate. Whether the pipeline is constructed as a direct result of the decision is, frankly, moot, as is any value judgment we attach. For now, we should place our cynicism on the shelf, and consider what is in front of us right now: Connections, the Report of the Joint Review for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.

The Report, produced by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, is an invaluable document, irrespective of where one identifies on the spectrum of public opinion. Connections is essential reading for anyone with a strong interest in the Enbridge pipeline. Although positions in the debate are unlikely to change as a result of the report, you’ll notice, if you have the patience or even the interest in reading government reports, that virtually every major grievance against the project is cogently articulated in comprehensive detail.

Unfortunately, media attention has focused primarily on the 209 conditions included in the appendices. The conditions come across as superfluous without the underlying circumstances provided throughout the Report’s body. Placed in their proper context, the conditions are serious and stringent. Moreover, shortcomings in Enbridge’s development process are clearly identified and acknowledged throughout each of the Report’s 11 sections.

For example: “Transport Canada confirmed that there are no provisions in Canadian marine shipping legislation that would make Northern Gateway’s marine voluntary commitments [. . .] mandatory or enforceable. The Panel finds that these voluntary commitments should be mandatory and enforceable [. . .].These conditions would be enforced by the National Energy Board.” And: “Michel First Nation indicated that Northern Gateway’s approach to consultation, which it described as ‘pan-Aboriginal,’ was an inappropriate approach.”

These are hardly the words of a one-sided assessment. Yet, the Joint Review Panel is rousing bitterness and intensifying opposition throughout the province. Multiple First Nations groups and advocates are threatening legal action; general opposition is more solid than ever; public and provincial opinions remain divided. Perhaps this antipathy stems from a general feeling that the decision is the beginning of the end for those committed to stopping the pipeline; the Report is simply documenting the changing of the tide. In reality, this may not be the end of the conversation but a relatively small step in the assessment process.

David Suzuki, in typical hyperbolic fashion, dismissed the Joint Review Panel’s Report as mere “rubber stamping” and a “foregone conclusion.” This is a shame, although not a surprise given Suzuki’s talent for exaggeration. Admittedly, the Panel’s decision warrants controversy, but only because it swings the process in favour of pro-pipeline parties. Even if read in its entirety, Connections will probably do little to dissuade those convinced that the decision is arbitrary and unfair. Nonetheless, the Report imparts some even-handedness and credibility to a narrative desperately in need of both.

One Comment

Avatar Bill King

To begin with I agree that reading the NEB document on the Enbridge pipeline proposal is a good idea. However, I don’t agree with the way your article was written. It is at points belittling, incoherent, jumbled and reeks of rage.

First telling people they “…should put their cynicism on the shelf.” regarding the report, reveals not only an aura of superiority by the writers to the readers by telling us what we should do, but an ignorance of the wider context of the external processes affecting the report. I prefer to give readers the benefit of the doubt that they are critically reflective enough to decide whether or not a cynical approach is warranted.

Second, your choice of examples claiming that critiques of the project are clearly identified and acknowledged bear questioning, particularly the example of the Michel First Nation, which was simply a documented statement and provides no insight as to whether the NEB took this into consideration. The following quote from the NEB shows the depth of understanding this committee lacks of First Nations culture and values by deciding for them what constitutes Aboriginal cultural and spiritual practices.

“The Panel does not share the view of some Aboriginal groups that the impacts associated with this project during construction and routine operations would eliminate the opportunity for Aboriginal groups to maintain their cultural and spiritual practices and the pursuit of their traditional uses and interests associated with the lands, waters, or resources.” (NEB, Considerations, Report of the Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, Volume 2. Aboriginal interests and consultation with Aboriginal groups.)
Third, the statement “…the Report is simply documenting the changing of the tide.” is incorrect.
The report does not document any changing of the tide. The report identifies issues of concern that arose during the NEB hearings. It doesn’t even make sense metaphorically unless you decide to bring politics into it, then you’re going beyond your stated context for examination of the report. Reading the report without the necessary political context it is like believing tap water originates in the tap while ignoring the infrastructure and origins of the actual water. Reports do not exist in a political vacuum, where is the context?
The statement that “general opposition is more solid than ever” does not reflect recent public opinion polls which suggest more support for the Northern Gateway. (see http://www.vancouversun.com/Increase+Northern+Gateway+pipeline+support+that+could+change+prof+says/9194584/story.html)
This op-ed also claims that the only reason the panel’s decision warrants controversy is because it “swings the process in favour of pro-pipeline parties”. This does not make logical sense when considered along with the statement in the previous paragraph that the “public and provincial opinions remain divided”. If this is the case, then it would be logical to conclude if the project was not approved there would be a similar public reaction from those who are pro-pipeline.

In concluding the editorial opines “Connections will probably do little to dissuade those convinced that the decision is arbitrary and unfair.” While this may be correct, it again lacks context, there is nothing arbitrary about the government ideological bent that the Canadian future is as an energy superpower. To think that this does not influence those judging the proposal is naive.

Overall, this article does little to promote engagement with the NEB report, clarifies the editorial staff’s pro-pipeline bent and increases polarization between those for and against the proposal.

Bill King

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