When it Comes to the Pipeline, Harper Talks in Circles

Elizabeth May

Yesterday in British Columbia, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to sound a note of reason on the subject of the increasingly unpopular proposal to build 1,100 kilometres of pipeline through the northern British Columbia wilderness between the Alberta oil sands and a proposed super tanker port in Kitimat, B.C. Here is what he said:

“The only way governments can handle controversial projects of this manner is to ensure that things are evaluated on an independent basis scientifically, and not simply on political criteria,” Harper told reporters at an elementary school.

“And as I’ve said repeatedly the government does not pick and choose particular projects. The government obviously wants to see British Columbia’s export trade continue to grow and diversify; that’s important. But projects have to be evaluated on their own merits.”

(Peter O’Neil, “PM insists pipeline projects not a political move,” August 7, 2012, Victoria Times Colonist)

He didn’t seem very comfortable as he said it. The words were a bit awkward -- “controversial projects of this manner”. “Manner?” No wonder. It was a complete abandonment of all Harper message machine management over the last year.

My favourite bit, if I am allowed favourite bits of howler whoppers, was the gratuitous, “As I’ve said repeatedly...” Where and when did he ever say anything like this before?

Let’s look at what he actually has said repeatedly.

In November 2011, the prime minister was interviewed by Global TV in Vancouver and asked specifically about the Enbridge project:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper: There are environmentalists who will oppose any of these projects. Obviously, there will be environmental assessments and there always have to be negotiations with First Nations but that all said, this is a critical and important project to Canada as a whole.

Global TV: Canadian opposition may not be the only stumbling block.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper: I think we'll see significant American interests trying to line up against the Northern Gateway project, precisely because it’s not in the interests of the United States. It’s in the interests of Canada.

Global TV: Could they do anything to stop it?

Prime Minister Harper: Well, they'll funnel money through environmental groups and others in order to try to slow it down but, as I say, we'll make sure that the best interests of Canada are protected.

(Emphasis added. The link is down to the actual interview on the Global website. This transcript comes from the website of Vivian Krause, www.fair-questions.com.)

On January 5, 2012, the prime minister appeared on the Calgary radio programme hosted by Dave Rutherford. He laid out much of his spring legislative agenda. Specifically, he emphasized approving the use of supertankers on the B.C. coast. He asked, since oil tankers ply waters off Atlantic Canada, why couldn’t oil supertankers move along the B.C. coast? (He made no reference to the 1972 federal-provincial moratorium on supertankers along the north coast of B.C.) Since there is only one project undergoing review that involves over-turning the moratorium to allow supertankers on the northern coast, the Rutherford show comments were directly supporting Enbridge.

On January 9, 2012, the day before the Joint Review Panel into the Enbridge project got underway, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, delivered the next blow in what was a carefully constructed PR barrage demonstrating that the Harper Conservatives supported the project. Joe Oliver issued a blistering attack on environmental groups and First Nations that may stand in the way of the pipelines and tankers. Here’s what he said:

“We must expand our trade with the fast growing Asian economies...Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth.

No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

January 30, 2012, in the House in response to a question from Bob Rae, Stephen Harper said:

“It is vitally important to the national interests of this country that we are able to export our energy products to Asia and, obviously, that is something the government hopes will happen in the future.” (Many similar comments can be found in Hansard.)

The one that rather caps it off comes from his February trip to China. Dateline: Guangzhou, China:

Canada PM vows to ensure key oil pipeline is built
By David Ljunggren, Reuters
Fri Feb 10, 2012

Canada's Prime Minister on Friday made his strongest comments yet in support of a proposed pipeline from oil-rich Alberta to the Pacific coast, saying his government was committed to ensuring the controversial project went ahead.

Enbridge Inc's Northern Gateway pipeline, which is strongly opposed by green groups and some aboriginal bands, would allow Canada to send tankers of crude to China and reduce reliance on the U.S. market.

An independent energy regulator -- which could in theory reject the project -- last month started two years of hearings into the pipeline.

In remarks that appeared to cast some doubt on the regulator's eventual findings, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it had become "increasingly clear that it is in Canada's national interest to diversify our energy markets".

He continued: "To this end, our government is committed to ensuring that Canada has the infrastructure necessary to move our energy resources to those diversified markets."

Of course, it is not just what he said, it is what he did that makes a mockery of this entirely bogus claim that he does not “pick and choose projects,” or pre-judge any project prior to review.

The entire apparatus of environmental law has been turned upside down and eviscerated. The budget omnibus bill, C-38, repealed the environmental assessment act, replaced it with a far weaker review, applying to fewer projects, coupled with removing protection for fish habitat, endangered species and navigable waters.

Other resource extraction projects will no doubt benefit from fast-tracking and lax review, but the first one to benefit would appear to be the one the PM keeps talking about. And for further proof, go back to this bit of reportage from Reuters:

“An independent energy regulator -- which could in theory reject the project -- last month started two years of hearings into the pipeline.”

That is no longer the case. Bill C-38 removed the independence of the National Energy Board decision-making, ensuring that the Cabinet could overturn any NEB decision. (Since the NEB is pretty reliably an approver of pipelines, I suspect this change in our laws was made to reassure the Communist Chinese government. They may have had some suspicion that the PM could not really deliver on his promise of the Great Pipeline of China being built since, after all, Canada has an independent regulator. No more.)

There are more quotes that can be hauled out. Stephen Harper has talked about Enbridge and sending tankers full of bitumen crude to Chinese refineries quite a lot. One thing you cannot find is when he ever said he was interested in the evidence.