A conference room is filled with dozens of empty chairs lined up row on row inside a beige hotel and casino complex. Guests and gamblers walk past the room, unaware of the rows of chairs laid out for a major public hearing.
They don't see that each day those chairs are cruelly denied their raison d'être when a security guard places a lock on the doors to the conference room, ostensibly to stop any nefarious member of the public from wandering in.
From time to time, a passerby asks the security guard: "What's going on in that room?"
"Public hearings," the guard responds.
"Oh, so can I go in?" asks the passerby.
"No sir, no you can't," the guard answers, polite but curt.
"I'm a member of the public. Can I enter this public hearing?" the passerby's questioning continues, voice rising with indignation.
"Unfortunately not. No public are allowed in these hearings," the guard politely responds.
A version of this fiction, farcical enough to be a Monty Python sketch, has been playing out for the past week in Burnaby, B.C. while the National Energy Board review of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline enters its final stage. While it's so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh at it, it's also unjust, anti-democratic and something that Canada's new prime minister promised would never happen again.
Last June, now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his party's environmental platform standing with his back to the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighborhood. With a withering critique that Stephen Harper's government had "chosen to be a cheerleader instead of a referee" when it came to pipelines, he promised a complete overhaul of the National Energy Board assessment process.
The platform gave a detailed commitment to "modernize the National Energy Board, ensuring that its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields like environmental science, community development and Indigenous traditional knowledge."
It further extolled that a Liberal government would "ensure that environmental assessments include an analysis of upstream impacts and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from projects" and that they would "will undertake, in full partnership and consultation with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation, a full review of laws, policies and operational practices."
It didn't end there.
During the election campaign the prime minister, when questioned on the Kinder Morgan review process at an event in B.C., explained that "no, they're not going to approve [Kinder Morgan] in January. Because we're going to change the government. And that process needs to be redone."
A few weeks later, after the government had been elected, Burnaby member of Parliament Terry Beech confirmed it. "Kinder Morgan will have to go through a new, revised process," he told a reporter.
"It's clear that prime minister Trudeau has broken a major promise and taken up the torch of continuing Stephen Harper's pipeline reviews."
Despite all this, that process is not being redone. Nor have any changes been implemented to meet the promises made in the election platform, including consideration around climate change, community concerns or Indigenous rights. In fact, when questioned on these promises, Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr confirmed that the Kinder Morgan hearings would be moving forwards without a new process and with no transitional rules to meet the promises made on the campaign trail.
So, why are the Liberals breaking such a crucial campaign promise on climate and Indigenous rights?
The answer may be in a leaked email that forced Trudeau's campaign co-chair, Daniel Gagnier, to resign a week ahead of the October 19 election.
Gagnier, who had worked as a contractor with TransCanada pipelines, was caught sending emails to the company advising them on how best lobby the next government of Canada, including suggestions on where to focus early energy to most benefit their pipeline plans.
The email explained that it was "extremely important that in terms of the revision of NEB rules and standards [TransCanada] and the industry find an early entry point so that the process does not impede timing on projected in-service-dates."
It is just an email, but it raises an important question. When Trudeau promised to overhaul these processes during the election, he was appealing to the people. He knew that the NEB had become a toxic process, amongst the most illegitimate regulators on the planet.
Thus, he promised to change the rules to include climate change, communities and Indigenous Peoples. Now, only months later, he's changed his tune. Instead of keeping his promise to the people, he's taking a stand that seems much more appealing to big polluters.
It's clear that prime minister Trudeau has broken a major promise and taken up the torch of continuing Stephen Harper's pipeline reviews. With this email, we have to wonder if he's taking up more than just that when it comes to the former prime minister's approach to climate change and the fossil fuel industry. If that's the road he's headed down, and the illegitimate NEB reviews of Kinder Morgan and Energy East are just the tip of the iceberg, we're in big trouble.
Canada needs to make some big leaps to change our actions from laggard to leader on climate, and to do that we need a government who can take bold climate action, not just make ambitious statements.
The good news is that prime minister Trudeau and this government still have time to keep their promise, but only if they stop these reviews now and make sure any projects moving through a review can only do so with a vigorous, science-based climate test, by listening to community voices and by truly respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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