Clayton Ruby writes that the federal and Alberta governments want to pipe bitumen through Enbridge's already constructed 9B pipeline. They also want to increase the pipeline's capacity from 240,000 barrels a day to 300,000 barrels a day.
And, to make sure that the oil industry gets what it wants, the Harperites have made the approval process meaningless:
Until recently, any interested group or individual could comment on the merits of a pipeline project or any other project seeking approval from the NEB. But in 2012, the Harper government snuck in amendments to the National Energy Board Act through omnibus Bill C-38. They wiped out much of the legal protections for Canadian fish and fisheries. They turned the NEB from an independent decision-making body into one that merely advises the cabinet. Even that wasn’t enough. Harper wanted to silence critics, too.
These amendments to the National Energy Board Act gave the NEB the power to screen out members of the public and scientific community likely to bring up “irrelevant” issues like skyrocketing cancer rates in downstream communities, the poisoning of watersheds and the negative impact of the tarsands. Prospective applicants are actually told not to bother if they intend to make submissions about tarsands development.
Today, anyone who wishes to be heard must fill out a nine-page Application to Participate Form just to submit a letter of comment. The obvious goal is to reduce the number of people putting their concerns on the record. Requiring that people submit a nine-page application form just for the right to submit even a one-paragraph written comment creates a tremendous disincentive for participation. Successful completion of the form does not guarantee the right to participate. That right remains at the NEB’s sole discretion.
And it works! Before these changes designed to keep the critics silent were enacted, the NEB heard 1,544 oral or written submissions at the Northern Gateway hearings. Now, they will hear only 175.
You would think that after the Lac Megantic disaster, the powers that be would see trouble ahead and try to head off opposition by giving opponents a seat at the table. But this is the Harper government -- headed by an "economist" -- who didn't see The Great Recession coming.
This government is not gifted with foresight. But it does know how to tell people to shut up.