Indigenous leaders and environmental groups vowed the Trans Mountain pipeline would never be built after the National Energy Board issued a second go-ahead to the federal government Friday.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said it’s “ludicrous” that economic interests are considered more important than killer whales.
“Indigenous people are not going to stand idly by and watch the destruction of the sacred killer whale population along the coast of B.C.,” Chief Philip vowed. “The thought of killer whales disappearing … is absolutely unthinkable.”
Stewart linked the SNC-Lavalin affair to the NEB decision, saying, “in this country, jobs are more important than justice.” He vowed that more lawsuits would be launched and said the pipeline “will never, ever see the light of day.”
The NEB found that marine shipping related to the oil pipeline is likely to cause "significant adverse environmental effects" on the Southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the whale. It said greenhouse gas emissions from marine vessels would "likely be significant."
However, the NEB recommended that the federal government "can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits of the Project and measures to minimize the effects."
'In this country, jobs are more important than justice.' - Grand Chief Stewart Phillip @UBCIC #TransMountain #pipeline #NEB #CdnPoli
Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the UBCIC, said Indigenous people have sacred connections to all animals and that the killer whale represents clans and houses that are important to First Nations governance.
Chamberlin said the fact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that the pipeline will be built, makes a “mockery of the consultation process.”
'Our orcas are in crisis'
Chief Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the UBCIC, said the government is in a conflict of interest as the pipeline owner and that they’re trying to justify the decision by saying the pipeline will add jobs.
“They’re not even listening to our orcas. Our orcas are in crisis,” Wilson said. “If it’s a vote between the orcas and the tankers, I vote for the orcas.”
Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth, said if the Prime Minister and cabinet rush their decision and approve the pipeline, Canadians will remember on the campaign trail this fall.
“Canadians expect more from the Prime Minister and from the Prime Minister’s Office,” Berman said. “We expect an ethically sound process. We expect evidence and scientific rigour. We expect this government to respect Indigenous rights.”
Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Green Party, said only 90 permanent jobs and 2,500 temporary jobs would be created by the pipeline expansion, while many more jobs could be created by cleaning up the oil sands.
“They’re prepared to say that extinction, the violation of human rights of Indigenous people, the destruction of our coast line, … and feeding and fuelling global warming at a time when we know it’s now or never to protect human civilization from our demise ... (is) valuable, but not as valuable as the economic benefits,” May said. “The evidence is not only lacking, there is none for economic benefits to outweigh what they’ve studied and found to be devastating consequences.”
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver called the approval political and said the project is not in the interests of British Columbians.
"The negative impacts of this project on B.C. are unacceptable. B.C. would shoulder massive environmental costs, while gaining little economic benefit. A spill would be devastating to our environment, our coastal economies and our tourism industry," Weaver said in a statement. “B.C.’s economic future lies in the innovative, creative industries that are leading global economic growth, not the sunset industries of yesterday."
Eugene Kung from West Coast Environmental Law Association said the government has been aiming to only do the minimum in consultations.
“As a lawyer I’m kind of excited because it means we’re probably going to be in court soon, but as a Canadian I’m very disappointed because what is clearly happening is a continuation of this pattern of treating consultation like a burden rather than a duty,” Kung said. “The transparency and conflict issues here are astounding.”
Ecojustice lawyer Dyna Tuytel called on cabinet to refuse to approve the project.
“Given the threats the Trans Mountain pipeline poses to endangered Southern Resident killer whales, local communities and the climate, Cabinet cannot lawfully approve this project,” Tuytel said in a statement. “Ecojustice urges the ministers to reject the NEB’s recommendation and shut the door on the Trans Mountain project once and for all.”
There is a 90-day deadline for government to respond to the NEB's decision, however that deadline can be extended.
Tracy Sherlock writes about B.C. politics for National Observer. Send tips and comments to [email protected]