A new government insider has emerged to add their voice in support of allegations raised this week that Canada's review of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion project was rigged.
The allegations were first raised on Tuesday, when National Observer reported that public servants said they had been instructed at an internal meeting in Vancouver on Oct. 27, 2016 to "give cabinet a legally-sound basis for saying 'yes,'" to the Trans Mountain project. They suggested that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government rushed its review of Trans Mountain and had made up its mind to support the project, despite claiming, at that time, that they were still consulting First Nations and the public before making a final decision.
Following the news report, another public servant spoke to National Observer confirming that they attended the Oct. 27, 2016 meeting. The instructions from then-associate deputy minister Erin O'Gorman about giving cabinet a "legally-sound" basis for saying 'yes' to the major oil expansion project left them in shock.
“I guess that's something that wouldn't have fazed me at all if the Harper government was still in power, But given the change in government, seeing as how we were told to provide serious advice, I was rather shocked..."
"I'm not sure if that was word-for-word, but that was certainly the gist of the message. So I can't say if that was a direct quote, but that was the message I heard,” said the public servant, who spoke to National Observer on condition of anonymity. "I was in shock."
When asked about the reaction in the room, the public servant said they could only speak about their own reaction.
“I guess that's something that wouldn't have fazed me at all if the Harper government was still in power,” the public servant told National Observer. “But given the change in government, seeing as how we were told to provide serious advice, I was rather shocked at being given that kind of direction. It's not something that I would have expected from a Liberal government.”
Trudeau's Liberals were elected after promising to restart the review, launched under the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper, of the Trans Mountain project, as part of a larger plan to restore public trust in federal oversight of major industrial projects. Trudeau had said, while in opposition, that Harper's government had damaged public confidence because of major changes to environmental laws that reduced federal oversight of industry.
The government has tabled new legislation, Bill C-69, to undo some of Harper's changes, but allowed the Trans Mountain review to proceed under Harper's rules after adding an additional consultation and review process, which federal insiders say was inadequate.
'All legally sound from Gitxaala'
The words "legally sound" also appear in records released by the Trudeau government through access to information legislation in response to a request for documents and notes produced at the Oct. 27, 2016 meeting in Vancouver.
They appear next to a sharp arrow with two lines on the left-hand column of personal notes taken by another public servant who was at the meeting.
“All legally sound from Gitxaala,” says the writing next to the arrow.
The message continues on the next line: “Convey with fidelity what they have chosen to do,” the writing appears to say.
These messages are on the second of two pages of handwritten notes taken during the special meeting involving public servants from six federal departments and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority related to Kinder Morgan.
This portion of the notes was listed in a section of “risks” about the federal government’s consultations, at that time, with First Nations about Texas-based Kinder Morgan's plans to build its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
Gitxaala is a reference to a court case that had been decided a few months earlier, in June 2016, when the Federal Court of Appeal concluded that the former Harper government had failed in its legal duty to consult First Nations prior to approving another west coast oil expansion project, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.
One day before the October 2016 meeting, another public servant wrote in an email to colleagues that there were “concerns post-Gitxaala that the process towards decision” on the Trans Mountain project was “moving fast.”
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr told iPolitics earlier this week that “there were no directions” given to public servants about the Trans Mountain project.
His comments came after the government had spent several days avoiding any direct comments about the allegations raised by public servants.
The allegations have already had some political ramifications in Ottawa, where the NDP pressed the government for three consecutive days this week to explain what happened during the meeting.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also sent a letter to Trudeau that urged the prime minister to release all federal records, related to the government’s review of Trans Mountain, including its secret cabinet documents.
In response, Carr has told the Commons that the government has already released numerous records about its review.
Many of the records, released to National Observer through access to information legislation about the Trans Mountain review, were censored by the government.
Kinder Morgan has threatened to abandon its project due to uncertainty caused by opposition to the project in British Columbia. It said it would make a final decision by May 31 after attempting to reach an agreement with all of the stakeholders involved, including the federal and Alberta governments, which have offered to intervene with financial support.
Meantime, the Federal Court of Appeal continues to deliberate over a legal challenge about whether the Canadian government fulfilled its constitutional duty to consult First Nations, including the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, about the project.
A decision is expected later this spring, but could likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, regardless of the outcome.
If built, Trans Mountain would triple the capacity of an existing pipeline to ship up to 890,000 barrels per day of heavy oil from Alberta to the west coast through a slightly modified route. Supporters of the pipeline, including the federal and Alberta governments, say it would drive growth and support a transition that enables action on climate change. Opponents say the project would lead to spills and push Canada's climate change goals out of reach.
Editor's note: This article was updated on May 6, 2018 at 10:20 p.m. ET to correct that there were public servants from six federal departments invited to the Oct. 27, 2016 meeting, along with representatives from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. The six departments are Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Health Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Natural Resources Canada, and Transport Canada.