"Unreasonable" Consultation and the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

Mike De Souza has a story in the Financial Post this morning, suggesting that the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline review process could be overturned by the courts because of "unreasonable" consultation with aboriginal communities. That suggestion comes from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency itself (one of the two government agencies tasked with reviewing the pipeline), and focuses on the lack of funding provided to Aboriginal communities to participate meaningfully in the review process.

While there is clearly a financial aspect that defines "unreasonable" consultation, there is also a moral aspect, and in that regard the Harper government has failed miserably. As I've related through my own story as a whistleblower, the Prime Minister's Office has actively worked behind-the-scenes to undermine the ability of a registered intervenor (ForestEthics) to participate in the review process, labeling the organization an "Enemy of the government of Canada" and an "Enemy of the people of Canada" and attempting to cut-off its charitable funding by Tides Canada, an environmental foundation.

Last week representatives of Tides Canada appeared before the Senate committee on energy, environment and natural resources to defend their charity against accusations of misusing funds in support of anti-oil sands campaigns. Despite expressing concern that dissenting voices are being silenced by the government, Tides Canada appears relieved to cast off one of those voices after a nearly 10 year relationship. While this is a testament to the pressure Tides Canada feels from the Harper government, it also showcases the organization's own lack of leadership - you can't have it both ways, are you against voices being silenced, or are you complicit in that silencing?

Here's an excerpt from a related article:

Paglia [Executive Director of ForestEthics] believes that its U.S.-based campaign is the real reason ForestEthics has become a target—and why the government is pressuring Tides Canada, one of ForestEthics' main funders, to drop its support for the group.

Paglia said ForestEthics is considering leaving Tides Canada voluntarily in order to protect Tides' other 30 organizations.

"What we're seeing is that every decision we make on fossil fuels ... brings more pressure on Tides," Paglia said. "We don't want to stay at Tides if it means the other [30] projects pay the price for them keeping us."

"If ForestEthics is feeling they may create negative impacts, I think they're taking a responsible approach," said Merran Smith, director of the energy initiative at Tides Canada.

Leaving Tides Canada would not affect ForestEthics' U.S. operation, Paglia said, but the group would lose the U.S. and Canadian foundation grants that support most of its Canadian campaigns. It would also be unable to give donors tax receipts, which might discourage individual donors.

Those Canadian campaigns include ForestEthics' participation in the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline review.

In late January, EcoJustice filed a motion that would require the pipeline review panel to determine if "recent statements by the Prime Minister or by the Minister of Natural Resources ... constitute an attempt by those ministers to undermine or to have had the effect of undermining the Panel hearing process or the credibility of any intervenor or any Person appearing before the Panel ... and identify the steps that it will take to correct such unfairness." Clearly we need to look much deeper than that.

It is my sincere hope that if the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is ever approved (and that's a big IF), that subsequent legal challenges include subpoenas calling on Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan, and representatives of the Prime Minister's Office to determine just how "unreasonable" the federal government's consultation has been, both in public and behind closed doors, including outright attempts to pressure, bully and remove the funding of registered intervenors in the pipeline review process.

Until that time comes, it's up to us as citizens to hold the government, and those who would sadly obscure its bullying behaviour, to account in the court of public opinion.