Both the public statements and the actions of Canada’s federal government have served to undermine the independence and integrity of the ongoing review of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Neither government ministers nor the prime minister have been shy about asserting that the pipeline is to be built regardless of the concerns of local residents and aboriginal groups and regardless of how it would put their climate change targets even further out of reach.
The implementation bill for the latest federal budget would also give cabinet the authority to overrule the National Energy Board and build the pipeline regardless of what they decide.
In the short term, these government actions may seem to improve the odds that the pipeline will be built. One significant consideration, however, is how the courts will respond to this bullying. In the event that aboriginal opposition to the pipeline is ignored by the government, it seems virtually certain that First Nations groups will go to the court to seek an order to block construction. The more the government undermines the legitimacy of the environmental assessment process, the more likely it is that judges will rule that the government has behaved improperly and the higher the odds the pipeline will be blocked by judicial means.