NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his parliamentary leader, NDP MP Guy Caron, have fired off a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to release all of the government's secret cabinet records related to its review of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
The letter, dated April 25, 2018, is largely based on revelations uncovered by National Observer, which found that public servants from five different departments were instructed by a high-ranking official to find a "legally-sound" way for Trudeau's cabinet to approve the west coast pipeline expansion project. These instructions were given to public servants during an internal meeting on Oct. 27, 2016, National Observer reported, coming at the same time that the government was publicly stating that it had not yet made a decision and was continuing to engage with affected First Nations about the pipeline.
"These revelations throw into question the legitimacy of the government’s entire review as they point to an approval based on political interests, the lobbying of a Texas-based oil company and has nothing to do with the national interest, as you claim," Singh and Caron wrote in the jointly-signed letter. "To address these serious concerns, we urge you to release all relevant documentation associated with the review process including those subject to cabinet confidentiality."
NDP says investigation provides 'troubling evidence'
The NDP is asking Trudeau to release all records generated between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 1, 2016 that were compiled by the different federal departments that were involved in the review of the Trans Mountain project. Singh later said at a news conference that the NDP would also ask a parliamentary committee to call Erin O'Gorman, a former associate deputy minister who had a lead role in the government's review, to testify about what she did. Public servants who attended the Oct. 27 meeting allege that O'Gorman was the one who instructed them to find a way to approve the Trans Mountain project.
"The most recent investigation by... National Observer, published Tuesday, April 24, provides troubling evidence that a senior official of your administration ordered public servants from multiple departments to find arguments to approve the Kinder Morgan project well before the evaluation process was completed," the letter said.
"These revelations come one week after we learned that your government sped up the process to approve Kinder Morgan’s project after being lobbied by the Texas company and months after we learned that your administration received memos from public servants saying that the consultation with Indigenous communities were 'paternalistic.'"
The NDP letter said that all of these revelations run counter to what a real nation-to-nation relationship should look like.
"A truly nation-to-nation relationship doesn’t mean doing symbolic and paternalistic consultations with Indigenous communities in which you already know the results of the process," Singh and Caron said.
"Clearly you can see how these allegations cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of the entire approval process for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. There is significant evidence here to seriously question whether any of your arguments regarding the national interest have any merit at all."
'We certainly did in this case'
Trudeau said earlier this month that he believed the government's consultations with First Nations on the Kinder Morgan project were meaningful.
"Lessons learned on consultations that did not go properly as court cases indicated were very important for us," Trudeau said on April 15. "We know that engaging substantively and responsibly with indigenous peoples is an essential part of how we move forward as a country."
The Harper government's failure to adequately consult First Nations led a Federal Court of Appeal to quash the approval of another west coast pipeline, the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, in June 2016.
"That’s why we embarked upon the widest ever set of consultations with Indigenous peoples around this particular (Trans Mountain) project," Trudeau added. "And while we understand out of no community are we ever going to be able to get unanimity, meaningful consultation, a hearing of concerns, responding to those concerns and finding the right path forward in the national interest is something that the government will always have to do and we certainly did in this case."
Several First Nations have challenged the government's decision to approve the Trans Mountain project at the Federal Court of Appeal. The case was heard last fall and a ruling is expected soon.
That decision could also be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which would trigger more uncertainty about the future of the Trans Mountain project.
Kinder Morgan has threatened to abandon its plans to build the Trans Mountain expansion if it is not able to resolve uncertainty that it said was being caused by opposition in B.C.
'More rigged than a Russian election'
During the daily question period in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Trudeau once again fended off attacks from both sides as the Conservatives accused him of working to scuttle the pipeline, while the New Democrats accused him of rigging the process in favour of Kinder Morgan.
"The whole fiasco of an approval process is looking more rigged than a Russian election," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen. "The PM promised the people of Alberta a credible process. He broke that promise. He promised the people of British Columbia meaningful consultation with First Nations. He broke that promise too. Many people suspected the fix was in from the beginning, that the decision had already been made, and now we have the proof from leaked papers from his own administration.
"If the prime minister wants to regain a scintilla of trust that he once commanded in the country, will he reveal all the Kinder Morgan papers once and for all?"
In response, Trudeau defended the government's review.
"What we actually did in this process was add additional steps, and a more rigorous process to a process we all recognize was terribly flawed under the previous Conservative government," Trudeau told the Commons.
"We extended the consultations with Indigenous peoples. I would ask the member opposite, outside of the House, to explain why he is ignoring the many Indigenous communities that are in support of this pipeline, that are asking for these pipelines to be built, to ensure their future and their kids' futures. There are many Indigenous Canadians that feel this is a good path forward. Why are they ignoring them?"
For his part, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer questioned why the federal government was offering a summer job grant to a B.C. group, the Dogwood Initiative, that is organizing against Trans Mountain.
Trudeau noted that the group has received similar funding for years, including during the period when former prime minister Stephen Harper was in power. He also criticized Scheer for suggesting funding should be yanked from anyone who is defending rights established under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"Unlike apparently the leader of the official opposition, we believe in free speech," Trudeau said in response to Scheer's questions. "We believe in advocacy on this side of the House."
Editor's note: This article was updated with additional background information at 3 p.m. ET on April 25, 2018. It was updated again at 5:06 p.m. with comments from question period in the House of Commons.