NDP hires former Supreme Court justice to help fight pipeline expansion
Published Thursday, August 10, 2017 7:43AM PDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 10, 2017 7:29PM PDT
The provincial government has announced the first steps in its plan to fight Kinder Morgan's controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, including the hiring of a high-profile former B.C. Supreme Court justice.
Thomas Berger, QC, who is also a former BC NDP leader, will be advising the government in two separate legal actions related to the $7.4-billion project, Environment Minister George Heyman revealed Thursday.
"Our government has been clear and consistent that the expanded Kinder Morgan pipeline is not in B.C.'s best interests," Heyman said.
"We will, as we have stated repeatedly, use every tool available [to stop it]."
With Berger's help, the NDP will be seeking intervener status in a judicial review of the National Energy Board's pipeline approval process that's set to be heard in November.
Berger will also advise the government in a lawsuit launched by the Squamish First Nation arguing the province, under Christy Clark's Liberals, failed in its constitutional duty to hold adequate consultations.
Though the lawsuit potentially puts B.C. in the awkward position of defending the project, Attorney General David Eby said he hopes the hiring of Berger will signal the government's intention to advocate for the interests of First Nations groups.
The former justice has a history of representing Indigenous interests in court, having been involved in the landmark 1973 Calder case that paved the way for Aboriginal land right claims.
"There is a new government," Eby said. "In this court matter, ensuring… our government-to-government relations with First Nations are protected... is a priority."
First Nations consultations are also a requirement for the environment assessment certificates Kinder Morgan needs to begin work on any publicly owned land, and Heyman said the NDP is committed to ensuring that requirement is met.
"Until these consultations are completed in a way that meets B.C.'s legal obligations, work on this project on public lands cannot proceed," he said.
"We have no desire to shirk our responsibility in that regard and face suit."
Parts of the existing pipeline are on land privately owned by Kinder Morgan, Heyman said, but most of it passes through First Nations territory and Crown land.
The company issued a statement shortly after the NDP's announcement insisting it has worked extensively with Aboriginal communities, while describing the level of scrutiny directed at the project as “unprecedented.”
“We have undertaken thorough, extensive and meaningful consultations with Aboriginal Peoples, communities and individuals and remain dedicated to those efforts and relationships as we move forward with construction activities in September,” Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said.
The company will continue working to address all concerns raised by the government, Anderson added.
In addition to the measures announced Thursday, Heyman also promised pipeline opponents the NDP is exploring other avenues to prevent the Trans Mountain expansion, though he did not provide any further details.
BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver applauded the province's announcement, noting that vigorously opposing the pipeline project was a key commitment in the cross-party agreement that allowed the NDP to seize power from the Liberals.
"The National Energy Board process that led to this project's approval was profoundly flawed," Weaver said in a statement. "Government has a responsibility to base major decisions affecting the lives and livelihood of so many people on sound evidence, and in the case of Trans Mountain that standard was not met."