Elizabeth May op-ed on Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline a hot mess of misinformation

Photo by Laura Keil, The Rocky Mountain Goat News

“National interest” is not straightforward, Alberta Federation of Labour does not oppose Trans Mountain Expansion, not clear that dilbit sinks in marine environment

Why should we listen to eco-gadfly Elizabeth May? Well, mostly because the Member of Parliament for Saanich–Gulf Islands is listened to by a significant number of British Columbians. When she writes an op-ed against the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, as she did Sunday in the Victoria Time-Colonist, people pay attention – which is why it’s important that May get her facts straight.

Her argument in this latest rant against the Kinder Morgan project is that, contrary to claims by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it isn’t in the “national interest.”

The National Energy Board “ruled that its mandate did not include jobs, or climate, or upstream or downstream impacts,” she wrote.

“So ‘national interest,’ according to the NEB, does not include energy security, net employment benefits, environment, climate, GDP or anything other than getting the pipeline approved.”

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Prof. James Coleman, Dedman School of Law, Southern Methodist University.

In fact, constitutional scholar James Coleman said in an email that “national interest is a broad phrase that allows the regulator plenty of discretion.”

The term has no legal definition, at least in this context, and can mean whatever Trudeau or Carr or Notley want it to mean.

Perhaps Canada needs a more precise definition of national interest if we’re going to bandy it about during important discussions controversial subjects like pipeline projects.

Until then, Elizabeth May does not get to casually cherry pick NEB statements and decide what the national energy regulator does or doesn’t mean.

Aside from misunderstanding “national interest,” May has a loosey goosey relationship with facts. Take her assertion that the Alberta Federation of Labour is “is also against Trans Mountain’s expansion because of the jobs and economic wealth lost down the pipeline.”

AFL head Gil McGowan says May is misrepresenting his organization’s position.

“The AFL is not against TMX, or any pipeline for that matter. In those days, we simply used every pipeline application before the NEB to make our case that Canada should be adding more value to its resources before sending those resources down the pipeline to other countries,” he said in an email response to questions from Energi News.

“For us, it was always about creating more jobs for Canadians, instead off-shoring those jobs.”

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

McGowan says the Alberta labour movement used the NEB as a forum to raise it concerns because Conservatives were in power in both Ottawa and Edmonton and they wouldn’t give the AFL the time of day.

“It was never the best venue, but it was the only one we had. Now that we have a government in Alberta that is more in tune with our concerns and more supportive for our calls for greater economic diversification, we don’t have to go to the NEB, anymore,” he says, pointing out that the NEB’s structure allowed for only a binary, yes or no response.

“For us, it would have always been better if we had been able to label our position as ‘it’s complicated.’ Now that we’re dealing with governments who will listen, through structures like EDAC [Alberta Energy Diversification Advisory Committee], we can present our real positions, which have always been more nuanced, but which have always focused on creating more industry and jobs here in Alberta.”

Then May endorses economist Robyn Allan’s fabricated argument about the “betrayal of the public trust that [Justin] Trudeau, [Jim] Carr and [Rachel] Notley so eagerly got behind Kinder Morgan’s manipulated jobs figure without checking to make sure it made any sense.”

I unpacked Allan’s Trans Mountain Expansion jobs claims in a Sept. 2017 column.

Yes, all the politicians Allan cites have confused direct jobs (Kinder Morgan numbers) with the combination of direct, indirect, and induced job estimates generated by a series of economic impact studies authored by the Conference Board of Canada.

Robyn Allan, economist.

In fact, I criticized Notley in Nov. for using the wrong employment creation figures. That column demonstrated how Alberta government staff garbled study numbers and inflated them by mistake.

I know it was a mistake because I first interviewed study co-author Michael Burt to get a clear picture of where the errors were made, then corresponded with Notley’s staff until they understood the problem and amended their release accordingly.

Because the Prime Minister, the responsible cabinet minister, and a premier make a mistake doesn’t excuse May for perpetuating bad analysis once the mess has been sorted.

Then there is her claim that there “is no technology to clean up a dilbit spill” based upon her faulty reading of studies by the Royal Society of Canada and Fisheries and Oceans, assuming she read them at all.

Later this week, I’m interviewing Dr. Kenneth Lee, chair of the Royal Society of Canada’s scientific review from 2015, “The Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments,” for a long-form story on dilbit that will be published in March.

Until then, you can listen to the podcast with Blair King – who has an interdisciplinary PhD in chemistry and environmental studies, works remediating contaminated sites, and writes the influential blog, “A Chemist in Langley” – as we discuss the literature on how dilbit behaves in a marine environment.

To sum up, in her op-ed May muddies the waters of a very important debate and that is unhelpful from an elected official who should be helping Canadians understand the issue so that they can arrive at an informed opinion.

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