On June 17, when the federal government announced its conditional acceptance of the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation for approval of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline project application, it took mere moments for opponents to be up in arms.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told the CBC, “We will do whatever is necessary” to stop the project. Both NDP party leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau promised to quickly nullify the approval should either win the next election. B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said so far only one of her province’s five conditions for support had been met as a result her province has essentially threatened to withhold from the proponent vital authorizations ranging from land management to industrial roads permits.
In other words, Enbridge may have earned government approval, but opponents are nowhere near granting the company the coveted social license. The national regulator’s project review, though of unprecedented rigor and detail, still doesn’t impress the stern social licensors.
But should B.C. finally acquiesce, environmentalists are ready to take to the streets and engage in acts of civil disobedience. By imposing on the permit seeker another, supra-legal level of obligations above “the bare minimum legal obligations,” the B.C. government essentially dilutes the efficacy of the rule of law. Social license becomes a moving target – and this suits opponents just fine since they are mainly the ones moving it.
So a $7.9-billion, shovel-ready project that is expected to generate an estimated $30 billion in economic activity across Canada over a 30-year time period can follow all the rules and regulations but still remain at the whim of opponents.
If opponents acquire the power to overrule federal permit approvals, retired Encana Corp. CEO Gwyn Morgan has pointed out that “This would not only be an economic tragedy, but also a signal that Canadian resource companies can’t count on due process under the laws of the land.”
(Source: for full editor’s comment got to Alberta Oil Magazine)