Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Exercising our right to public statements - somewhat privately

by Edward Gregr, Sarah Klain, and Kai Chan

Over 18 months ago, during the initial froth over the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal to ship diluted bitumen across BC via pipeline and then overseas via tanker, we signed up to give our views to the Joint Review Panel (JRP). We saw it as an opportunity to present both our personal values on the issue, as well as emphasise how some of our research bears on the ecology, values, and trade-offs of the proposed project.
In the interim, the federal ('Harper') government has made considerable changes to environmental legislation through two omnibus 'budget implementation' bills. The first of these, Bill C-38, made sweeping changes to environmental protection laws, largely to the benefit of the oil and gas industry. In particular, they undermined the authority of the JRP by allowing the federal cabinet to make the final decision on Northern Gateway (see here, and here).
These changes contributed to an already polarised debate and seemed to galvanise opposition to the pipeline proposal. In recent months, as the JRP held hearings throughout British Columbia, speaker after speaker has spoken out against the project. As protesters sought to make their opposition heard, the panel often felt threatened, even cancelling some hearings in fear for their own safety.
Last week in Vancouver, and the weeks before in Victoria, these 'public' meetings were effectively closed to the public. The meetings were broadcast by video link to venues some distance from where the panel was taking oral submissions. This rather dramatic approach to public process has raised the ire of some.
This was the context as we arrived in downtown Vancouver on January 19, 2013 to give our oral statements to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel. While the mood was positive, the tension was palpable. The meeting room was remote, the police presence obvious, and the setting formal. We were ushered in three at a time into the presence of the panel. Bags had to be checked. We faced the three-member panel, and two Enbridge representatives. It was not a comfortable speaking environment.
Nevertheless, the speakers shone. We were impressed with the quality of every oral submission we heard that morning. Everyone was prepared, articulate, passionate, and persuasive. We were fortunate to share the morning with 11-year-old First Nation activist Ta'Kaiya Blaney who spoke eloquently about cultural values and the crown's obligation to First Nations.
Interestingly, even though we share many values, and much academic space, our respective presentations had little overlap, and managed to cover a lot of ground. Kai spoke about the nature of the cost-benefit analysis, touching on the size of the risk, and social justice among other topics. Sarah covered the re-emergence of First Nations traditions and sustainable energy, and Ed spoke about the vulnerability of ecosystems, and questioned the ability of the industry in general and Enbridge in particular to effectively reduce and mitigate the risks.
The panel was respectful, and appeared to be listening closely to each speaker, occasionally making notes. The silent, respectable-looking Enbridge representatives seemed unmoved by the statements. We wonder how they will process all the opposition they have witnessed. Is there anything that could change the minds of Enbridge executives when it comes to this proposal?
Ed, Sarah, Kai.
January 23, 2013

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