Conservative governments will attack even the mention of the environmental assessment of a pipeline

Last week in Atlantic Canada (May 23, 2013), the CBC asked Liberal leader Justin Trudeau about the proposed Trans-Canada Energy East west-east pipeline project, and he responded,

“I think it is a proposal that is extremely interesting. We are waiting to look at how they are going to deal with both the community, local, aboriginal concerns and the environmental concerns.” He went on to say, “The [substance] that they put to make that thick crude, thick bitumen run through those pipes can be very toxic. I want to see the plan for being environmentally responsible on it because it won’t go ahead if it will cost us on pollution, in degradation and in inefficiencies in the coming years.”

Conservative governments attack Trudeau

Almost immediately, both provincial and federal Conservatives attacked Mr. Trudeau’s call for environmental assessments and community consultations. Conservative New Brunswick Premier David Alward went so far as to say that Trudeau’s comments

sent a bad message to the rest of Canada.”

The next day (May 24, 2013), federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver also came out against Trudeau’s comments, saying,

“this isn’t the time to diss a major project of this kind.”

Federal Conservatives even used one of their questions in Question Period on May 24 to reiterate their position and attack Justin Trudeau again. Conservative MP Scott Armstrong asked,

“Our Atlantic Conservative caucus stands solidly behind this project. Could the Minister for Natural Resources [Joe Oliver] update us on our government’s position toward the west-east pipeline?”

But rather than explaining his party’s position, Minister Oliver only said that the Conservative government

“strongly supports, in principle, a west-east pipeline that would bring lower cost Canadian crude to refineries in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.”

He used his prepared response instead to criticize Justin Trudeau, saying,

“I share New Brunswick Premier Alward’s concern about the federal Liberal leader’s negative comments regarding this highly important job-creating initiative. The Liberal leader should think twice before he speaks and finally take a stand on a substantive policy issue rather than to take both sides for narrow partisan purposes.”

Ted’s response

I don’t think that calling for high environmental standards and consultations with affected communities is a “diss” to pipelines. In fact, I think that the only way that people will feel safe with pipelines is by knowing that they are subject to a rigorous environmental review and monitoring. We need to trust that our government is doing everything they can to balance our country’s environmental, social and economic needs.

That is why I asked Minister Oliver to clarify his party’s position on environmental assessments immediately after Mr. Armstrong’s planted question. Here is the full text of my question to the House:

“Mr. Speaker, again the minister just attacked the notion that a west to east pipeline needs an environmental assessment and local and aboriginal consultations. The minister said it ‘isn’t the time to diss a major project,’ earlier today and just repeated the same thing here. However, demanding blind support for a pipeline risks losing the social licence needed in the U.S. to secure approval for Keystone XL. Does Canada really want to say to the world that even voicing the importance of environmental assessment is a ‘diss,’ or will the government clarify to the world right now that it agrees that honest environmental assessment is important?”

Minister Oliver agrees

Minister Oliver responded that,

“we will not proceed with a project unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment. We have an independent regulator to look at the issue. We do not prejudge it…”

I am happy to hear that the Conservative government agrees that an independent and thorough environmental assessment is a critical first step in any pipeline project, but I have to say that this answer is just not consistent with his unjustified attack on Mr. Trudeau for saying just that.

We have reached a point where voicing any concern about the environmental risks of pipelines attracts attacks from Conservatives. This is a problem for many reasons. First, we need to undertake energy projects like pipelines in an open and transparent way, making sure that the government and citizens are fully aware of any risks and how to mitigate and manage these risks effectively before the project is given the green light. This is the only way that Canadians can trust that the government is putting their interests first.

Importance of environmental assessments

The government also needs to convince voters other countries, like the United States, that Canada’s environmental policies are sound. This has been the problem as the government tries to secure U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which has encountered stiff opposition on the basis of environmental protection. It seems clear that a good first step in gaining international confidence in our environmental policies would be to stop attacking people who mention the need for reviews, and, then, to honestly implement science-based environmental assessments.

But beyond the political benefits of these environmental assessments, the most fundamental reason we need these reviews is to ensure a safe and sustainable future.

Update

The Conservative government continues to attack Justin Trudeau, and Minister Oliver accused him on May 27, 2013,  of “prejudging the conclusion” in another planted question in QP:

Mr. Rodney Weston (Saint John, CPC):

“…Could the Minister of Natural Resources please update the House on the progress of this project?”

Hon. Joe Oliver (Minister of Natural Resources, CPC):

“Mr. Speaker, I want to say that our government strongly supports, in principle, a west-east pipeline that will create jobs, job security and growth in eastern Canada and across the entire country. In contrast, the Liberal leader is playing both sides for partisan purposes and is fostering unfounded public concern based on his shaky grasp of science. As he would know if he put in a little time doing his homework, the National Energy Board will do an independent environmental review, which he should await, rather than prejudging the conclusion. He should do his homework.”

To ask to “see the plan for being environmentally responsible” is to support the jobs and true economic growth that Canada’s natural resources can bring. Justin did not prejudge any conclusion, he only wanted to see the environmental assessment. Expressing support without any reservations or reviews, as Minister Oliver did, is in fact “prejudging the conclusion.”

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