Justin Trudeau Trans Mountain

If citizens don’t trust laws and regulatory processes, expect more determined resistance

In the wake of the Trans Mountain ruling, we need to stop pointing fingers and reflect on lessons learned

We all need to step back from the finger-pointing and political posturing in the wake of the Federal Court’s decision to quash approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline and reflect on the lessons government, and we who elect them, should now have learned.

The former Harper government wanted pipelines so badly that it eliminated or weakened environmental protections Canadians had previously relied on. The federal Conservatives used budget omnibus bills to strip down the Fisheries Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act and other laws meant to ensure due environmental diligence for resource projects.

The predictable result was that public interest groups became more determined to stop pipeline projects in the face of such obvious bias.

Lesson number one: if citizens don’t trust laws and regulatory processes, expect more determined resistance.

The public distrust was exacerbated by the National Energy Board, which has long been stacked with pro-industry staffers. It chose to ignore potential impacts on oceans and endangered species and bulldozed through what should have been a full and respectful consultation process with First Nations.

Lesson number two: if regulatory boards aren’t objective, diligent and clearly focused on protecting the public interest, expect the courts to rule against the resulting decisions.

We got here in large part because the Harper Conservatives opted to de-regulate and to stack the approval process in the interest of multinationals, instead of putting the public interest — in environmental protection, fair process and respectful engagement — first.

Fortunately Canada has a system of law that protects the public interest when governments fail to do so.

The fault doesn’t all lie with the Conservatives though. The Liberals, have lessons to learn from this fiasco too.

Trudeau tried to ingratiate himself with Albertans by merely tweaking the previous government’s flawed process in his hurry to approve the project.

Ironically, he insisted that the decision was based on science and fair process. It was not.

The NEB’s shortcuts had ensured that. See lessons one and two.

Then he doubled down and put Canada another $4.5 billion dollars in debt by buying the pipeline!

Shareholders are now laughing all the way to the bank and we own an aging pipeline and a lot of new pipe we can’t use.

Lesson number three: governments should stick to governing, not gamble our money in the business marketplace.

The only government looking even remotely credible now is the province of B.C. whose opposition has been partly vindicated — but meantime they are building the Site C dam that they approved by an almost identically flawed process.

Meantime, Alberta’s NDP are left wearing unearned blame for federal errors. Fortunately their pipeline cheerleading was accompanied by a Climate Action Plan that at least offers some hope that Alberta won’t be left flailing with nowhere to go.

Lesson number four: it’s clearly time to stop putting all Alberta’s economic eggs into the bitumen basket.

The question now is this: will governments learn those lessons and take the necessary steps to ensure that regulatory boards are no longer captive to industry, that citizens can trust environmental laws and the agencies meant to enforce them, that Aboriginal rights are honoured, and that our economic plan will be based on something more than nostalgia for the 1970s?

We’re reaping the consequences of political cynicism and ineptitude at the federal level.

We’d be wise to take a good hard look at the political philosophies of those who want our votes, either federally or provincially, and ask who is most likely to repeat Harper’s and Trudeau’s fatal errors — and who might actually ensure Canada profits from these lessons rather than having to learn them all over again.

Kevin Van Tighem is an Alberta conservationist and author whose books include Our Place: Changing the Nature of Alberta.

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