Revelations on Sunday that Enbridge had actively, and successfully, lobbied the federal government to walk away from an agreement that was central to a decade long planning process with Coastal First Nations and the Province of BC do nothing to help the company’s embattled pipeline and tankers project, or its reputation with First Nations.
Coastal First Nations, environmental groups and the Province of British Columbia were all shocked last September when the federal government abruptly broke off an agreement on the development of a marine plan for the Pacific North Coast (PNCIMA) – a plan that had been almost a decade in the making. The federal government apparently felt that the plan might be co-opted and used against the Enbridge Pipeline, but we argued at the time that the government’s withdrawal actually increases the likelihood of a legal challenge by Coastal First Nations against the pipeline and associated tanker traffic:
[A]nything that the federal government does in relation to consultations with the Coastal First Nations about tanker traffic and the Enbridge Pipeline that might be considered “dishonourable” creates legal uncertainty and problems for Enbridge. So was the decision to withdraw from the current PNCIMA funding arrangement “dishonourable?” …
Until now, the government has been engaged in what appears to be a very thorough and honourable process to engage with the Coastal First Nations on how BC’s North Coast should be managed. It was a process that could have credibly addressed many of the Coastal First Nations concerns about a host of marine-based issues, from fishing to marine transport, including addressing the risks associated with oil tanker traffic. Instead of this consultative process, the federal government has unilaterally adopted a scaled back planning process, with a limited budget, which will accomplish none of that. The government did not consult or even give advance word to First Nations before it made its rash decision.
And now we receive word, via the Canadian Press, that Enbridge lobbied the federal government to withdraw from the funding arrangements for PNCIMA 8 months before the government withdrew from the agreement. Apparently Enbridge argued that the involvement of Tides Canada – which would have administered the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation funding – would have compromised the PNCIMA process:
"The funding by Tides Canada of the Coastal First Nations and other participants in the PNCIMA initiative raises serious questions about the objectivity of those parties in regards to the process and their oversight of Tides Canada in its administrative role with the PNCIMA initiative," says one company slide.
"The PNCIMA process is too important to allow it to be hijacked by parties with clear and specific motives beyond the creation of an oceans management plan."
There is a certain hypocrisy to this position, since Enbridge itself had funded workshops during an earlier stage of the PNCIMA process (albeit not to the extent of the Gordon and Betty Moore funding). It also occurs to us that Enbridge, who is part of the PNCIMA process, and for that matter the federal government, have a set of “specific motives” in relation to the pipeline and tanker project which go beyond the creation of an oceans management plan.
The federal government’s timing in cancelling the agreement and dramatically scaling back PNCIMA is also curious given that it was just a few short months later, in early 2012, that senior ministers launched an attack on non-profit environmental groups for receiving funding from U.S. foundations. These attacks would have been more difficult to launch if a government planning process such as PNCIMA was itself receiving such funding (although the cancellation did not stop media from pointing out that the government has accepted other grants from U.S. foundations in the past). Did the government know in September 2011 – when it cancelled the PNCIMA – that it was about to launch a public relations offensive against Canadian environmental groups?
Cancelling the PNCIMA funding agreement went directly against advice from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who emphasized that the funding was not influencing the process.
Documents show that ending the agreement countered the advice of public servants in the department, who continued to back the grant deal in the wake of the lobbying.
"This funding arrangement is not driven by corporate or ideological interests," the draft briefing note from January 2011 said.
"It will allow DFO to better engage with all stakeholders and build an integrated oceans plan that is based on the best available scientific and technical knowledge and expertise."
The revelation that the federal government, in cancelling the agreement without consultation with the Coastal First Nations, was acting as a direct result of lobbying by Enbridge is evidence that the Coastal First Nations could use in a possible future legal challenge of the Enbridge Pipeline.
PNCIMA is dead, Long live PNCIMA
Since we reported on the death of PNCIMA as originally conceived by the parties in September 2011, there has been a piece of good news: The Coastal First Nations and the Province of British Columbia have not abandoned their vision of a science-based plan for the Pacific North Coast with broad public consultation and buy-in. Launched November 28th, 2011, the Marine Planning Partnership for the Pacific North Coast (MaPP) will develop 3 regional marine plans:
“Our partnership with the Province will support the development of marine plans for Haida Gwaii, the North Coast, and the Central Coast,” said Art Sterritt. Sterritt, the executive director of Coastal First Nations, added the three sub regional marine plans will be integrated to generate regional planning products and guidance that will be informed by scientific and technical expertise in areas such as social sciences and economics, marine biology, ecology and oceanography. It’s anticipated the marine plans will be completed by December, 2013.
Unlike the federal government’s Marine planning process, the MaPP will “carry out meaningful and transparent community and public engagement with industry, environmental non-governmental organizations and other interested parties.” Click here to visit the Coastal Nations Marine Planning web page.
The Government of British Columbia is to be commended for continuing with this partnership despite the federal government walking away from the process. BC could have argued that marine planning is a federal responsibility and declared PNCIMA dead. Instead, they are demonstrating a commitment to work with the Coastal First Nations which we applaud.
It will be interesting to see, as MaPP proceeds, how it interacts with an integrated marine plan that the federal government wants to develop for the area on its own.
Stay tuned for more developments.
By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer
Whale photo courtesy of Andrew S. Wright / www.cold-coast.com
Underlined and strike-through passages reflect an update made 21 November 2013 in response to a request for clarification from a commenter.