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.

“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..."

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'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.

Kinder Morgan, meeting, Vancouver, October, notes, Trans Mountain
A screenshot of notes taken by a government official on Oct. 27, 2016 in Vancouver during an internal meeting to discuss the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Document released through access to information legislation

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.

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Comments

Shouldn't a public servant represent the government view going into these sessions? It doesn't strike me as "rigged" at all, from that point of view. It isn't as if there isn't a governmental interest in these projects. It isn't illegitimate to expect your paid appointees to get approval. How are the other representatives chosen?
Are they not representing an already hammered-out position?

Excuse me, but are you saying that because a public servant should represent the government, rigging by the government of any process is impossible? I rather suspect that is a fallacious argument, that in some cases could get the civil servant in trouble with the law.

We have due process...and rules of engagement in this country for a reason. And we have whistle blower protection for those who come forward with information regarding illegal processes being used behind closed doors.

These safegaurds seems very sensible. Since it isn't the government du jour that pays these people's salaries...its the taxpayers of this country. It is to be hoped that our civil service isn't a gestapo like bureaucracy in waiting...and that at the behest of any government, they are expected to engage in quietly subverting the public processes citizens believe are in place.

Re think your understanding of how governing bodies are expected to work. No one is above the law, or entitled to spin evidence rather than follow it. Starting with your conclusions and then building evidence to support those conclusions is a time honoured methodology of right wing shrink tanks. It should be part of how we expect our national civil service to work.

Kudos to Mike De Souza for smoking out the Feds on this very important issue! Very disappointing behaviour from the Sunny Ways crowd!

Sounds like this "public servant" may have been influenced by the same folks financing the anti pipeline protests. In any case, he went against the public trust and violated the confidence of his employer. He should be canned immediately.

What in the word "public servant" that you don't understand? "Public" means that you are paid to serve the "Public" not the government in place or its business friends. Trudeau's transparency pledge is just another broken promise. Public servants should be able to speak out. We have the right to know what's going on so that we can make advised decisions. Ignorance, secrecy and repression are the foundation of totalitarian regime.

Knowing that right wing attitudes such as you demonstrate exist in this country is likely why both people spoke confidentially. But we can be thankful for the courage Canadians still have to speak up when due process is treated with contempt. And folks who think might makes right should likely be temporing their approval of Big Money Bullies....I think the tide of opinion is turning against them.

The issue is one of decision making based on various expertise. Some people will see an issue one way and others another way. A final decision was made based on all inputs including political considerations . That’s what has happened. Not necessarily government secrecy. It is the same in families deciding on which movie you will take your kids. Eventually one person will have to decide. The dissenting person can claim the other was a better movie. I think in this case the public servent never accepted the final decision of the team. I would be more concerned if all had the identical input. That would seem like collusion to me. If you base your comments on this person’s notes then you should see all others’ comments as well

The dentist that is on the federal payroll might be told to find no cavities but, as his expertise is dentistry therefore finding and fixing cavities is his job. A couple of the comments here would suggest that his role is to find no cavities even if decay is present.

These are public servants, the key word here being “public”. I believe that this means working for the public, the citizenry, the taxpayer. In a trumpian world this is not the case but, much to my pleasure, This is Canada.

Hopefully, more and more of us will stand up to keep it that way....as we learn the extent to which certain industries think they are above the law. I'm remembering the basis of Italian fascism more and more these days.....'corporatism' it was called....the elitiest belief that what was good for business was good for the country, and that a business elite could and should make all the decisions in the country.

Look where that took Italy less than a century ago....for corporatists, a case can be made that war creates wealth....and they have never been adverse to either. Two good reasons to keep them away from the real levers of power.

I am not sure exactly what my final position on the Pipeline issues. I see the need for development balanced by environmental protection. However I do know about being a public servant. I was one for almost 30 years. I like to think I worked hard on issues trying to be as neutral as possible researching issues and presenting facts without judgement. However public servants are people and do have private opinions. I know one competent engineer in the pollution control area who still does not believe in climate change caused by anthropogenic activities. So at meetings people/scientists/engineers /policy makers all voice their ideas but at one point consensus decisions must be made even if it’s contrary to someone’s private opinions. So I understand if one person will seem to be upset if their opinions were not taken. Or the direction of the decision is different than their view . We all give our best advice. It’s up to the team leaders to make the final decisions. Sometimes that may be frustrating but that’s life! Don’t read too much into a dissenting private comment.

As a former colleague, I agree with your word of caution, Val. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the government (through a senior official) asking for legal argument in support of a potential decision. This is even a reasonable to-do while consultations are still ongoing, so timing is not the issue. Briefing notes are prepared all the time. But were arguments in support of the opposite (or some alternative) also on someone's to-do list? Were they already in hand? In any case, if no evidence of such instructions or briefs can be produced, only then can one accuse the government of having "fixed" the decision.

It is certainly depressing. I think many of us who voted Liberal wanted to get rid of Harper - instead we have another government that lacks an understanding of the real dangers of climate change and certainly seems to be in the back pocket of the oil industry. Thanks for your continued hard work, Mike.

Public servants are not the issue here. The issue is one of timing. The person in charge, Erin O'Gorman, tells the meeting on Oct.27, 2016, what to do, "give cabinet a legally-sound basis for saying 'yes,'". Yet Minister Carr denies that direction was given to anyone about the decision to approve the pipeline expansion. But meanwhile, the Liberal Government is still supposedly consulting First Nations even though the decision to say 'yes' has already been made.

Sounds to me like a 'fix'.

Absolutely. And the arguments trying to say it wasn't will be at best sewing more patches onto the fix, at worst blatant lies. But following the letter of the law is so tiring. And takes to long, if your task is to get a noxious pipeline built in the short window you have before the reality of global warming wakes up most of your citizenry.

Lovely spring floods we're having, are they not? So typical...nothing to see there!

What isn't avoidance, spin or a backroom fix these days?

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