What this federal election means to the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline

As much as jobs, social programs and taxes, one local activist says this fall's federal election will impact another issue — the reversal of Enbridge's Line 9B.

New government will be 'pressured to do something about the NEB,' activist says

A protester stands at Enbridge's Westover station in rural Hamilton in 2014. The protesters were demonstrating against the planned reversal of the flow in Line 9B, the increased capacity and the plan to flow diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

As much as jobs, social programs and taxes, one local activist says this fall's federal election will impact another issue — the reversal of Enbridge's Line 9B.

The reversal of the oil flow in the line, which runs from rural Hamilton to Montreal, has drawn protests and letters of concern, including from the City of Hamilton.

Whoever wins the Oct. 19 election likely won't stop the project, said Don McLean, co-ordinator of the Hamilton 350 committee. But that party will have the power to up the scrutiny on that project, and all future projects like it.

"I don't think anyone running is likely to say 'we will shut down Line 9,'" said McLean, who wrote about the issue for his group Citizens at City Hall (CATCH).

The NDP believe that we should leave the resources in the ground.- Meaghan Murdoch, Conservative party spokesperson

But whoever forms government could urge the National Energy Board (NEB) to order more extensive hydrostatic testing on the line – above and beyond the testing already ordered in June. And it will certainly have the power to give the NEB's environmental assessment process sharper teeth for future projects, McLean said.

"If we get a government that's different from the Conservatives after Oct. 19, they're certainly going to be pressured to do something about the NEB."

The federal government's changes to the NEB date back at least five years. In 2010, the Harper government changed the environment assessment process. Such assessments used to be conducted by an independent joint panel appointed by the federal environment minister. Now they fall under the NEB, and critics argue it's a weaker process that doesn't adequately consider the impact on climate change. They also say the new process restricts public participation. 

You can't approve these projects under Stephen Harper's failed process.- David Christopherson, Hamilton Centre MP and NDP deputy leader

Critics launched more outcry this month when the federal government appointed Steven Kelly, a consultant for Kinder Morgan, to the NEB. Kinder Morgan is behind the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in B.C.

"Steven Kelly's appointment to the NEB is just the latest mess in the Kinder Morgan NEB hearing, and it is all Stephen Harper's fault," said Elizabeth May, Green Party leader, in a statement this weekend.

October's election results will determine the federal government's attitude toward pipelines and how they're treated, McLean said. In this case, the differences are stark – the Conservatives pledge to maintain the current NEB review process, while the NDP and Liberals both say they'd overhaul it.

The current system is working, the Conservatives told CBC News this week.

"A re-elected Conservative government will continue to maintain the same approach to responsible development as we have in the past," spokesperson Meagan Murdoch said in an email.

That includes using pipelines to export oil in a "responsible" manner, she said.

Enbridge plans to reverse the 9B section of its Line 9 pipeline. (Enbridge)

"Our government believes in responsible resource development and export, while the other parties believe in no resource development…The NDP believe that we should leave the resources in the ground."

The other three parties, meanwhile, pledge to overhaul the environmental assessment process. Hamilton Centre MP David Christopherson says his party wants to see tougher environmental legislation and more public input. 

"The Conservatives gutted the review process, putting the environment at risk," he said in an email. "You can't approve these projects under Stephen Harper's failed process."

The Liberals also pledge a new NEB environmental assessment process that is "comprehensive, timely and fair," said Bob Bratina, candidate for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek.

"The Conservatives have gutted the assessment process, weakened environmental protections, and undermined public trust."


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