Trans Mountain Pipeline

By Emma Bott


Pipelines are controversial as they are subject to criticism by many individuals and groups, yet still, many individual groups support them. They cause protests and headlines as well provoke politicians to sling insults at each other–think of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Trans Mountain Pipeline is one of the biggest ethical dilemmas in Western Canada at the present time. Kinder Morgan is the company that is building the pipeline that is supported by the Alberta provincial government, the New Democratic Party (NDP), and it is important to note that the Canadian federal government has approved this project. In British Columbia, specifically Burnaby and Vancouver, indigenous people all oppose the pipeline being built and are supported by the BC provincial government. Burnaby is yet to issue the permit allowing for the construction to occur. According to the Globe and Mail, Kinder Morgan is looking at a nine-month delay in its $7.4 billion project.


The decision is usually backed up with some research. What can occur, though, is that politicians want to ensure that they will continue support or gain support in an area. The liberals are not widely popular, but the Trans-Alberta is, and by approving the pipeline, the Liberal government can be hopeful that this will morph into more support. It is the responsibility of the Canadian federal government that they act in accordance with the wishes and best interest of the Canadian people. Alberta states that the pipeline is, in fact, within the best interests of all Canadians, but there is little information regarding this claim to be true. As far as Alberta is concerned, the pipeline could help us economically in the short-term by creating jobs. The Canadian government is now the middle man between two provinces that are believing to be acting in their best interests of their constituents, and in the case of the Trans-Mountain pipelines the Canadian federal government plays the part of mediator between two provinces and has the power to tip the scales.


Indigenous rights play a large role in the Trans-Mountain pipeline; the Federal government has actually been criticized on an international level for how it has reacted to indigenous concerns regarding the environment. In May 2016, Canada became party to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Justin Trudeau stated in a speech in September 2017 at the United Nations that Canada must learn from its mistreatment of indigenous people. This declaration does include indigenous people’s right to land and that they must consent to projects on their land. Under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the indigenous community needs to consent to major infrastructure on their land–the federal cannot decide themselves if a pipeline is to be built on their land. The Trudeau government was in violation of this when they approved the Trans-Mountain pipeline. There was a precedent for the rejection of energy projects being rejected due to the projects infringement on indigenous rights. In November 2010, Jim Prentice, Conservative Minister of the Environment in the federal government, rejected a proposal for a mine, because allowing the mine would go against the constitutional job of the government to protect First Nation Rights as well as the federal responsibility to protect the environment. The indigenous people have a right to protest the building of this pipeline. They either finance their own court battles or they receive donations and support from other parties that share their opposition to the project. Many protests against the pipeline have taken place in Burnaby, both from indigenous individuals as well as others.


It is the responsibility of the provincial governments to act in accordance with the wishes and the well-being of the constituents of that province. In the case of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, there are two provinces that believe they are working in accordance with the best interests of the general population. Provincial governments pressure other provincial governments as well as regulatory agencies of the federal government–an example of this is the Alberta provincial government’s intervention to pressure the National Agency Board into forcing Burnaby and British Columbia into providing the required permits. Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta, stated that “fighting for Alberta jobs and Alberta’s energy sector” as quoted from the Globe and Mail. It is important to note that the large-scale job creation of the pipeline is temporary to the actual building of the pipeline. Once the pipeline is built, the required labour force would be quite small in comparison to the large force needed for the building process. On the revised schedule, the Trans-Mountain Pipeline would be finished in late 2020. This means there would be just over two years of employment. In is important for our provincial government to recognize the already-negative perception worldwide media has regarding our oil and gas industries; the visit by Jane Fonda to Fort McMurray, particularly, drew a lot of negative attention to the Alberta energy sector. The BC provincial government governs in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The BC government is also applying the 94 Calls to Action from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is the responsibility of the provincial government to set regulations; BC has been creating more regulatory hoops such as requiring more spill response studies. The BC government has also hired Joseph Arvay as an external council (Britton, 2018). Arvay is a “noted constitutional lawyer” (Britton, 2018).  John Horgan, the premier of BC, is planning to refer the case to the court as constitutional question (Britton, 2018). Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade was forced to apologize after calling members of the BC provincial cabinet inappropriate names.


The issue between Kinder Morgan and British Columbia is being taken to court over the expansion of the pipeline. BC has hired Joseph Arvay as an external council (as reported by CBC BC); Arvay is a “noted constitutional lawyer.”  John Horgan, the premier of BC, is planning to refer the case to the court as constitutional question. On the matter of the constitutional question, it is likely that the Trans-Mountain case will be categorized as a reference case (a reference case occurs when “the court is asked to weigh in on particular legal matters, often when the constitution or division of the powers between the federal and provincial government is involved). The National Energy Board has ruled over the laws of the city of Burnaby’s laws that were stopping the work. The Federal Court of Canada will not be hearing an appeal.

It is important that companies realize that if an environmental accident or crisis occurs, it will be their reputation on the line. If there is a spill, leak, explosion, or any other kind of crisis, Trans-Mountain will be vilified in public opinion. What makes it worse is that Kinder Morgan has adopted an aggressive, bully-like stance on getting the pipeline built. Sometimes, it is the perception of whether a company is ethical; this is why concepts, such as greenwashing, occur. Kinder Morgan wishes to build this pipeline because it wants to triple their capacity to send oil to an export terminal in Vancouver, but that being said, it is the responsibility of the company to analyze the ethical risk of their project. There have been other issues in the past of companies going with the options that cost them the least as opposed to choices that are environmentally safer as well as more ethical. Usually, the safest option leans more towards the expensive side of the spectrum. Kinder Morgan has published online risk assessments, pre-construction compliance audits, and environmental compliance protection plans for the Trans-Mountain pipeline. An outside audit done by the National Energy Board found that eleven of the 36 items on the checklist were noncompliant. The National Energy Board is an independent regulatory body. Kinder Morgan was required to file a corrective action plan before work would resume. As a part of ongoing regulatory monitoring, Kinder Morgan must pass targeted compliance activities along the building process.


The Trans-Mountain pipeline is controversial; there are supporters within Alberta and BC, but there are also those who are firmly against it altogether. It is the responsibility of people to find out the facts and come to their own conclusions regarding the pipeline.

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