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The federal government has issued yet another taxpayer-backed loan guarantee — this time for up to $2 billion — to help get the massively over-budget Trans Mountain pipeline expansion over the finish line.

TMX is about 97 per cent complete, but the final 16 kilometres are filled with construction challenges and fierce opposition from Stk'emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation. Experts say the cracks are starting to show up on the Crown corporation’s balance sheets.

Trans Mountain recently recorded a $1-billion loss in its third-quarter financial statement. It says the reason is that interest rates on its billions of dollars of loans rose from 1.85 per cent to the Canadian prime rate of 6.6 per cent. Other factors included the timing and cost to complete the project, the toll structure and what happens when the initial contracts with oil shippers expire.

“This is an eye-watering number in terms of a writedown, but it's only probably one-20th of what's to come,” said Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law. According to September financial statements, $16.5 billion of Trans Mountain’s debt was guaranteed with taxpayer dollars. Analyses by a number of experts predict the federal government will have to forgive all this debt and more due to the accumulation of interest.

Trans Mountain expects construction to wrap up in early 2024 and commercial operations to begin at the end of the first quarter of 2024. However, the Crown corporation says there will be further delays unless the Canada Energy Regulator lets it use smaller pipes for a stretch of challenging construction conditions between Hope and Chilliwack, B.C. Intervenors, including Simon Fraser University professors Tim Takaro and David Huntley, submitted documents detailing extensive concerns about the plan and the need to take the time to properly evaluate the changes to materials and coatings. The regulator rejected this application in early December, citing concerns about safety and pipe integrity, among others.

Trans Mountain has asked the regulator to reverse its decision, and claims that failing to do so could delay the project by approximately two years and cause the Crown corporation to “suffer billions of dollars in losses.” A hearing was held Jan. 12 on Trans Mountain’s request and late that evening the CER said it will allow the Crown Corporation to use 30-inch diameter pipes instead of 36-inch diameter pipes.

This is just the latest of several efforts by Trans Mountain to change construction methods late in the game. In September, the regulator approved the company’s application for a route deviation to dig a trench through a sacred site over the objections of Stk'emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation.

It’s like running a pipeline right through the Vatican, said Mike McKenzie, a Secwépemc knowledge keeper from Skeetchestn and commissioner of the Unceded Law Response Group. The only difference is that the inseparable burial and prayer grounds at Pípsell (Jacko Lake) are not marked by grand structures or religious buildings, he added.

“This is a really special area, we have all our medicines in this area,” said McKenzie during a December webinar hosted by the Wilderness Committee.

It’s like running a pipeline right through the Vatican, said Mike McKenzie of @UncededX. The only difference is the burial and prayer grounds at Pípsell are are not marked by grand structures or religious buildings, he added. #TMX

He showed participants photos of the Pípsell area, just southwest of Kamloops, B.C., where Trans Mountain is digging the trench for the new pipeline.

Drone shot of Pípsell. Photo by Tim Takaro, courtesy of Unceded Law Response Group

“My vision quest was done on the top right of that photo right above the lake and people have done their vision quests all through this area,” said McKenzie. It’s not apparent from the drone shots, but this area is actually really high up and is called an entrance to the Sky World, he said, comparing it to being atop a mountain like Mount Garibaldi.

“This is our holy waters. This is our transformation stories,” said McKenzie.

Efforts to stop Trans Mountain from tearing up these sacred lands have been ongoing. Most recently, McKenzie filed a notice of civil claim to the BC Supreme Court to try to immediately halt construction in the Pípsell area. The notice was filed on Dec. 29 and is still before the courts.

“This is literally destroying lives trying to keep up with their money, their resources, their efforts, everything that they do,” said McKenzie, adding that doing this work has been really tough on him and his wife.

“[Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] shouldn't hide behind the 47-page decision of the Canada Energy Regulator that's going to ultimately wipe away our rights until the end of time,” said McKenzie. “It worries me, really worries me what the future of Indigenous rights, title and jurisdiction are. But most importantly, that relates to the future of our sacred site and what we have left.”

Finance Canada did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
January 15, 2024, 02:58 pm

Late on Jan. 12 the CER approved Trans Mountain's request to use smaller pipes for a stretch of construction. This article was updated to reflect this development.

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I find it truly dispiriting that any Indigenous people would sully their highly-esteemed role as genuine "keepers of the land" AND the natural evolution of the word "sacred" that goes along with that by comparing it to ANY religion, PARTICULARLY Catholicism. Such misplaced/transferred/deluded reverence shows that all the abuse, all the brainwashing worked, and is still working on them! A version of Stockholm's syndrome in other words.
They of all people should not only DISAVOW that religion, they should be openly vilifying it as it SO richly deserves. It's a massive, missed opportunity because the abuse continues apace, the "big lie" writ large marches on, wreaking havoc on and weakening humanity. Arrogantly denying and thereby defying the very nature of reality, "nature" being the key word. As I keep saying, maybe if we had called it "Father Nature" it would have garnered the respect it has always deserved? "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" now applies.
For example, most recently Roman Catholicism has captured the U.S. Supreme Court by proxy, and so finally after decades of political effort via the Republican Party it has managed to regain some of the control over women lost in modern times, a control that lies at the very heart of its creed.
But imitation is also the most sincere form of flattery. The "sky world?" What's wrong with just "the sky?" Glorious enough all on its own, along with the entire landscape beneath it is it not?
As I said, most dispiriting.

I didn't get the sense that Catholism was important at all in the above quotes from the Nicola River area FN. In fact, I gathered that these and, history shows, other sacred sites and belief system were largely kept hidden and preserved from colonial religion, just like the potlatches were practiced in secret on the West Coast decades after they were made illegal.

Christianity, colonial political rule and the RCMP certainly did indeed crush the spirits of Indigenous people, repressed their beliefs and founding stories and stole generations of children to abuse and attempt to brainwash into adopting European identities. And today all of society is paying the price.

The Catholics were the worst abusers, and are the last holdouts
for reconciliation. The Anglicans and United churches are way ahead of them in admitting their violent sins against Indigenous kids and in asking for forgiveness and giving back what they can. Though it will never be enough, there has at least been a turning point and progress.

I see an equal evil in the support and openness to MAGA-like repression with the fanatic extremism of the evangelical Christian right. Politics and religion need to be separated now more than ever. The wisdom of secular humanism seems far more evident today than at any other part of my lifetime, and I was raised by an evangelical mother!

No hell below us, above us only sky.

One reason I don't pull punches about religion is because I was fortunate enough to not be saddled with it as a child, so am objective about it, seeing clearly that these delusions cancel each other out and are interchangeable, including one that is less "colonial."
So I fail to see how more people don't connect the dots between how indulging people's problematic desire for magical thinking, for heaven, immortality and a god, or a devil, NONE of which are true or exist in reality, has created and supported the "big lie" that won't die. Because Trump has spawned a cult and is seen as either "Q" himself or sent here by "the big guy." Sigh.
We should all be dying for the truth; I certainly am.

Perhaps it was intended as a metaphor for what Mr. Trudeau would understand. I believe he's Roman Catholic.

The thing about Catholicism is that confessing in secret is a get-out-of-jail-card. Nothing unconfessed, no sin left. Consider how handy that must have been in the Inquisitions.

Pretty much everyone else, as far as I know, reaches end of life having done what they did: nothing more, nothing less.

I think there is also a policy where one can purchase an indulgence for a particular sin by making a donation to the church. Profiting from guilt by continuing the sinning. Now there's an everlasting grift for you.

With all loan guarantees in, this pipe is what, 36 billion dollars? 38 billion? Why not just round it up to an even 40 given the ballooning costs and losses?

Some critics may conclude that the project will be written off only with a big hit to federal finances and credibility. The project will be sold to the private sector only with a very, very steep discount.

Forty billion bucks would have: built out dream rapid transit systems in Canada's five largest cities; bought hundreds of thousands of heat pumps for distribution to Canadian homes and businesses; built thousands of km of a national clean power grid; provided a decade of generous subsidies for solar, wind and geothermal energy projects; built thousands of units of affordable rental and co-op housing in the ten largest cities....

But nope, we got a fossil fuel project built to appease Alberta that will be completed just as renewables and EVs start to noticeably erode oil demand in Alberta's export markets.

And what is is cost of broken trust among offended First Nations whose sacred sites and ground water supply is threatened by TMX project construction, operations and potential spills? Trust that Trudeau tried to build with one hand hidden behind his back carrying a fossil fuel club.

Trudeau critics will jump on this one with both feet, but in their angry zeal they lose sight of the Conservatives who are drooling in the background, waiting to build as many TMXs as they can while dismantling and privatizing healthcare and putting convoy truckers into the Justice Dept.

We are not in a good place. But the situation isn't dire if you look beyond momentary politics and focus instead on the powerful emerging economics of renewables.

The farther we travel down this path the wisdom of not placing all one's trust in politics becomes evident.

Trans Mountain got its answer only a few hours after the hearing ended. It used extortion to get permission from the Energy Regulator to use smaller pipe through its tunnel near Hope by threatening a two year delay if it did not get permission. It refused to consider alternatives that would have been quicker.

The plan that was approved earlier was to make a 48 inch tunnel and pull 36 inch pipe through it. Trans Mountain gave that up when it found the reaming tool kept on getting damaged and it anticipated more water was pouring into the tunnel than it could manage. No surprise, as this tunnel was in the red zone of a chart provided by a consultant, indicating success was unlikely.

Trans Mountain had managed to get the tunnel to 42 inches in diameter, so it requested permission to use smaller, 30 inch pipe. The problems with this are that the pipe had been bought, from four different suppliers, from three different manufacturers, and was of uncertain quality; also special adaption to testing would be required when in use. The Energy Regulator said no to this. Trans Mountain asked again, threatening a two year delay, without considering alternatives that had been suggested. The Regulator capitulated within a few hours.

This smaller pipe is in the yellow zone of the chart, indicating success is not guaranteed. There could be further problems.

Really interesting stuff.

I heard second hand about the TMX legal bully tactics in the hearings by the original NEB against municipal permits. The city of Burnaby shot right back with a 39-page affidavit detailing the many, many flaws and shortcomings in TMX permit applications. TMX was it's own worst enemy. It was enough to shut up even the most pro-oil critics on the editorial board of the Calgary Herald, specifically those who claimed Burnaby was "holding up the permits" when in fact it was TMX incompetence to supply any of the typical technical documents (plans, specs, technical info.) required by all applicants. Someone applying for a permit to build a shed has to supply more documents than TMX ever did.

To no one's surprise the NEB (known derisively then as the National Oil Board) ruled in TMX's favour and from that point on could legally ignore the concerns of every municipality it crossed.

One wonders how easier and cheaper it would be to build a transmission corridor across BC to carry clean electricity in two directions, i.e. imports from the east and exports to the east.

One day TMX may be seen as a post-oil asset to export excess winter rainfall from the West Coast to the increasingly parched Prairies.