A court has now ruled in favour of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but the power of social license is yet to be tested

Posted on March 27, 2018, 1:44 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May under arrest Friday at the site of the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal in Burnaby, B.C. (Photo: Rafferty Baker, CBC). Below: Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart before his arrest at the anti-pipeline protest (Photo: Kennedy Stewart Website), Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan and B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman (Photo: Wikipedia Commons).

The Federal Court of Appeal’s decision Friday not to hear not to hear an appeal by the government of British Columbia and several B.C. municipalities opposed to a ruling of the National Energy Board that allows Kinder Morgan Canada to ignore local permits and bylaws undoubtedly illustrates the strength of Alberta’s legal arguments.

Whether or not that turns out to be the slam-dunk political victory many people in Alberta are now declaring it to be is far less clear.

“It wasn’t that we won the decision, it was the court wouldn’t even hear it,” Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley rejoiced yesterday. “So it was a pretty definitive victory for the pipeline and for the people of Alberta and Canada.”

This is fair enough as far as it goes.

But whether Albertans like it or not – and we can safely assume that by and large they don’t – Ms. Notley nevertheless got it right back in the day when she argued that winning social license from our fellow Canadian citizens was a necessary part of Alberta’s efforts to market oil derived from our province’s vast bitumen sand deposits.

Our Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was right too when he famously said, “even though governments grant permits, ultimately only communities grant permission.”

Canada’s Conservatives always denied that this was so. It was too much work when you face articulate opponents, ready to do their homework, making a strong case for an alternative view. The only sensible way to proceed, they argued, was to shove Alberta’s pipelines up its opponents’ noses.

This seemed ironic, as they’d not had much success themselves with that strategy, but as soon as pipeline opponents in Coastal British Columbia were influential enough to cause the defeat of a government favourable to the Trans Mountain Pipeline, most of the fine talk about social license by Liberals and New Democrats went out the window too.

It’s all about who wins in court now. As Premier Notley Tweeted yesterday: “To date, Alberta has won every case brought against Trans Mountain. Your Alberta government will not back down until this pipeline is built and the national interest is secured.”

Face it, while New Democrats in Alberta and Liberals in Ottawa may continue to hold a less dangerous environmental worldview, Conservatives have a point when they crow that Ms. Notley and Mr. Trudeau have accepted their contempt for the wishes of communities along the pipeline route.

At any rate, the Alberta NDP’s and the federal Liberals’ commitment to social license turned out to be a kilometre wide and a centimetre deep in the face of moves by B.C.’s NDP government to slow the pipeline expansion megaproject, and by the local municipalities to throw roadblocks in its way.

Supporters of the United Conservative Party Opposition here in Alberta keep claiming we would have gotten to this point sooner if there’d been none of this social license chatter in the first place.

It may turn out, however, that we only got as far as we did because of it.

Indeed, it is quite possible with the abandonment of the social license strategy by its more progressive advocates we will soon return to the serial failures that characterized the decade of joint Conservative rule in Ottawa and Edmonton.

Rest assured that the opponents of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline plans, and indeed of the whole bitumen-mining project in north central Alberta, are not giving up the fight.

Despite the anger of the Alberta NDP and sinister rumblings of support from Ottawa, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said yesterday that while he was disappointed by the court’s ruling, Premier John Horgan’s NDP Government would continue to look for new ways “to defend the interests of British Columbians against this unnecessary project.”

Well, they’re propped up by three Green Party MLAs, so maybe their hearts aren’t in it.

But the Mayor of Burnaby, unhappy home to Kinder Morgan’s Pacific Coast pipeline terminal, vows the municipality won’t pay for cops to arrest protesters who defy the company’s court injunction forbidding protesters to stand too close to its property.

This prompted an angry shot yesterday at Derek Corrigan from Premier Notley, and hand wringing by a columnist for the Calgary Herald, the fearless champion of the multinational petroleum industry, which may just sense the way the prevailing coastal winds are blowing.

And every day, dozens of ordinary British Columbians – and some not so ordinary ones, like Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and leader of the federal Green Party, and Burnaby-South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart on Friday – quietly line up to be arrested for standing too close to the fence.

And this, my friends, is where this very political battle will be won or lost, not in the courts.

If the crowds peter out after a few days and the arrests slow to a trickle, the battle will be won, just as Ms. Notley says it already has been.

If they continue to grow, and British Columbians continue to line up to be peacefully arrested, this is when we Canadians will learn the real power of social license.

And if it gets so bad the Prime Minister feels he has to call out the army to push the pipeline through, as many Alberta Conservatives are already demanding, that is the day Alberta, Ottawa and the oil industry will have truly lost this fight.

12 Comments to: A court has now ruled in favour of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but the power of social license is yet to be tested

  1. Sam Gunsch

    March 27th, 2018

    And with regard to social license, it’s just possible
    that the actual record of our AB management of the oilsands
    undercuts any pipeline advocacy by any Albertan…
    NDP/UCP/op-ed writers/PostMedia pundits, Roughnecks, etc,
    when they try to base it on claims of our ‘responsible development’ and the ‘best environmental regulations’.

    Below, reports from Alberta’s most lauded home-grown
    enviro-thinktank/non-radical enviro-consultants, just posted last fall
    exposing our AB ‘responsible development’ and ‘best regulations’.

    ==================

    Tailings ponds: The worst is yet to comeOilsands at 50 Series – The Real Cost of Development, Part 2

    http://www.pembina.org/blog/tailings-ponds-worst-yet-come
    ===================

    Fifty years of oilsands equals only 0.1% of land reclaimedOilsands at 50 Series – The Real Cost of Development, Part 3

    http://www.pembina.org/blog/fifty-years-of-oilsands-equals-only-0-1-of-land-reclaimed

    Protect Alberta’s caribou, or they won’t survive 50 more yearsOilsands at 50 Series – The Real Cost of Development, Part 4

    http://www.pembina.org/blog/protect-albertas-caribou-or-they-wont-survive-50-more-years

    Reply
  2. Alton Barkley

    March 27th, 2018

    Just a point about Aid to the Civil Power rules. My understanding is that the Canadian Armed Forces cannot be sent into a province to, say, assist in the building of a pipeline unless the request for military aid is made by the province. How likely is that to happen?

    Reply
  3. March 27th, 2018

    She felt she needed media exposure. It has been a dry spell. Plus some rumblings inside her Party.

    So time to get arrested and make a bit of a splash……with the public and with her party. Get the numbers up a little.

    Sorry of being so cynical. Politicians do not do anything without a reason. The trick is to determine the real reason for their actions. This one was not hard to figure out.

    Really….anyone can get arrested at a demo. You just have to show up and break the law. No special skill required.

    Reply
  4. Cole Pederson

    March 27th, 2018

    David, this is an excellent column. It has been a mystery to me why Premier Notley has abandoned any attempt to develop or shore up support for the pipeline on its own merits or as essential feature of her climate plan. Someone (presumably her political advisers) seems to have convinced her that Albertans will only support Bully Boy/Mean Girl tactics for getting the pipeline built. Taking that advice seems to me to have been a drastic error. In my opinion, I think that people elected her to produce a new approach to governing not to watch her turn into a New Progressive Conservative.

    Reply
  5. Ron

    March 27th, 2018

    “Rest assured that the opponents of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline plans, and indeed of the whole bitumen-mining project in north central Alberta, are not giving up the fight.”

    we are just getting started

    Reply
    • Chris

      March 28th, 2018

      The whole point is that pipeline opponents will NEVER ACCEPT any pipeline NO MATTER WHAT arguments and justifications are put forward. They ignored the Harper Conservatives, they ignored the scientists and engineers of the National Energy Board, they’re ignoring the Notley NDP, they’re ignoring the Trudeau Liberals, they’re ignoring economists, they’re ignoring every court of law.

      This will end badly. Wait for Albertans to adopt the eco-warrior’s tactics and shut down all six paved roads and four rail lines at the BC-Alberta border.

      Someone (Trudeau, ahem) is going to have to decide whether the rule of law is going to be respected in this country or ruinous kaos is allowed to destroy us.

      Reply
      • Geoffrey Pounder

        March 28th, 2018

        It’s the oilsands boosters, pipeline cheerleaders, and climate change deniers who ignore science, math, and simple logic. Notley and Trudeau have joined their ranks.

        1) How do you propose that Canada should meet its 2050 target of 150 Mt if the oilsands takes up at least two thirds of the budget (100+ Mt)?

        2) 193 nations account for 60% of global CO2 emissions. (China and the U.S. account for the other 40%.) Each of these 193 nations contributes a tiny fraction of the total.
        How do you propose that the world tackle this 60% of emissions unless all the lesser emitters reduce emissions? Especially high emitters in affluent nations like Canada.

        Reply
      • zalm

        April 3rd, 2018

        Don’t forget the airports. You’ll have my undying gratitude if my plane to Frankfurt doesn’t have to stop in Edmonchuk to pick up some more passengers.

        As for your roads, don’t you think keeping cheap Chinese crap from getting to Saskatoon and Winnipeg, not to mention Toronto will piss off the wrong people? Port of Vancouver will still get paid for landing the load – it’s Albertan’s who won’t be able to buy it.

        Seriously, all these silverback Albertans really need to think about what they’re grunting and screaming. The Prairies, more than any other territory, depends on trade for its quality of life. We know you know it – it would just be nice to hear you say you know we know you know it.

        Reply
  6. David

    March 27th, 2018

    I’m not sure what social license really means, but it seems the Conservatives may be able to claim to be right on this – you aren’t going to get it. The second part of their response is, so don’t even bother trying.

    It could end up being the unintended consequence of intransigence that we end up with no carbon tax, no climate change plan and people so frustrated at the lack of progress that eventually we end up at that, along with court decisions and other things that essentially end up just ramming things through. The problem with rigid win/lose approaches, is you can lose as well as win.

    I think the whole idea of the national climate action plan was to give something to everyone, realizing that you couldn’t please one side without giving nothing to the other side. The hope was that this would satisfy enough people, perhaps to get some level of approval aka social license. Now, I am not actually sure how many people you have to satisfy to get social license – is it 50%, or more? Is that by a provincial or regional basis? If a government supports a project, but is then replaced by one that does not, what does that mean? If 9 communities on the pipeline route support it, but one does not, what does that mean? How many protestors does it take for them to be taken seriously?

    We are never going to have unanimity, so presumably social license does not mean no opposition or 100% support, if it means anything at all.

    Reply
    • Geoffrey Pounder

      March 28th, 2018

      Notley knew that West Coast British Columbians would not take the pipeline expansion lying down (except in front of a bulldozer, perhaps). Notley knew she would have to steamroll local opposition.

      The “social licence” ploy never made sense. Govts can’t award themselves social licence. Social licence comes from affected communities.
      How do a tiny carbon tax and increasing emissions in one province win “social licence” for pipelines in another province? Absurd!
      Notley never bothered to meet with affected communities or their local representatives to address their concerns. Instead, she made her house-of-cards case to business elites across the country.
      What happened to the D in NDP?

      Reply
  7. Dilbit

    March 27th, 2018

    In a simpler world, we would just ship our products. “Our” meaning Canadians. Products such as oil, oil by-products, aluminum, steel, gold, uranium, diamonds, molybdenum, nickle, lead, raw timber, (even I believe still asbestos), wheat, corn, pulses, fish. Then there’s the small value added exports. I haven’t seen any major war or other humanitarian catastrophe strike Alberta or BC or any other primary resource exporting province. Have you? Isn’t it time for Canadians to stop being such push overs? Our resources are coming from a conflict free territory. They should be priced at a premium. I just don’t see how buying from despots and rogue regimes makes sense!

    Reply
  8. Jerrymacgp

    March 30th, 2018

    I’d like to counter a few of the arguments that have been expressed here, if I may.

    Firstly, it’s this idea that continued oil and gas production—whether from the oil sands (or tar sands, or bitumen sands, or what have you), from “conventional” oil fields (think pumpjacks) and natural gas formations like Duvernay and Montney, contributes to maintaining and even increasing fossil fuel consumption and so GHG emissions on a global scale. In my view, that’s bunk. I’m no economist, but when it comes to the laws of supply and demand, doesn’t supply follow demand, instead of driving it? If a product is no longer in demand, its supply will dry up when it becomes no longer profitable to produce, market and distribute it. If that weren’t true, buggy whip manufacturers would have successfully ridden out the introduction of the automobile. Similarly, once people start using low-carbon and no-carbon energy sources, demand for oil and gas will dwindle naturally without any intervention, with higher-cost sources being the first to shut down. Until that happens, though, failure to get our product to markets that pay closer to global prices simply transfers market share offshore, rather than put any brakes on GHG production or climate change.

    Secondly, there is the matter of value-added. Personally, I’d much rather see bitumen upgraded, and both synthetic and conventional crude oils fully refined into end-use products like gasoline, diesel fuel and petrochemicals, right here in Alberta, keeping those jobs at home. But the market doesn’t support that, so the only way to achieve it would require a much more aggressive government intervention in the market than would be politically palatable here. Anyone old enough to remember Petro-Can knows that. The Alberta or federal government (or both together in a partnership) would have to virtually nationalize the industry and build its own upgraders and refineries, and force Canadians to buy their fuel from that nationalized entity, for such a transformation to succeed, and such a radical shift is simply never gonna happen.

    Finally, there’s the matter of the alleged inadequacy of the province’s Climate Leadership Plan and the $30/tonne carbon tax. Maybe it’s true; perhaps we would need a carbon price of $100/tonne or higher to incent a measureable réduction in carbon and other GHG emissions. But that isn’t really the point, is it? The current policy is already wildly unpopular in Alberta, and has been implemented at great political risk for the NDP government. There is no doubt in my mind that if a Jason Kenney government is formed after next year’s election, its Bill 1 will be to repeal the carbon tax and the rest of the Climate Leadership Plan in one fell swoop. If TransMountain goes ahead, there is no guarantee the NDP will be re-elected, but if it remains stalled, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t be. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is one area where perfect is the enemy of good. A “perfect” plan will simply make Kenney the Premier, not achieve anything positive.

    Reply

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