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DAVID STAPLES: Approval of new pipelines shouldn't be tied to the price of milk

A map of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is shown as the National Energy Board releases the board's reconsideration report on marine shipping related to the expansion project, in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. The federal government is extending the deadline to make a decision on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to June 18.
A map of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is shown as the National Energy Board releases the board's reconsideration report on marine shipping related to the expansion project, in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. The federal government is extending the deadline to make a decision on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to June 18.

You might wonder how the price of milk could be a legitimate reason to stop a multi-billion pipeline project from getting approved.

I certainly wonder.

But the Trudeau Liberals evidently think the price of milk is just such a compelling issue.

When the Liberals assess future industrial projects, they don’t just want to look at the environmental impact of the project on the surrounding area, they want to assess everything from how it impacts climate change around the globe to how it changes prices at the local grocery store.

This whole hog approach is the driving force of the Liberal’s Bill C-69, the proposed law to assess the theoretical impacts of major new industrial projects, such as pipelines, wind farms, port facilities and mines.

This bill is now being debated at a Senate committee. At the hearings, Senator Grant Mitchell of Alberta — who raised the milk issue — is evidently acting as a Trudeau government watchdog on any proposed amendments to the bill.

In that role on Monday evening, Mitchell dug into how the federal government and its new regulator, the Impact Assessment Agency, would apply the 22 various mandated factors to consider before a project is approved, including the controversial and oft-discussed mandate that “ the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors” must be considered.

Critics of the bill wonder what this vague and possibly loaded phrase means, as well as how it’s relevant to industrial projects.

Such consideration of sex, gender and identity is needed, Mitchell argued, reminding the committee it had heard testimony that these projects can adversely impact women and that these are legitimate concerns.

And that’s when he brought up the price of milk: “What was very compelling to me was the witness testimony that said with tremendously increased demand in a small community, food prices go up. Single mothers don’t have a flexible income to start paying twice as much for milk.”

It’s true that if a pipeline is built or a mine is opened in a rural area, food prices could well go up in nearby small towns. But isn’t it also the case that a single mother could get a well-paying construction or production job, or that the local grocer or restaurant where she works might get enough business to keep her employed?

Of course there could well be single moms who at that time are unemployable and in great need. We can all agree it’s the job of the government and the purpose of charitable organizations to assist them. Indeed, the government has no shortage of existing social programs.

But in what micro-managed, red-tape infested world does the affordability of milk become a government-mandated consideration of a pipeline project? Does the pipeline company not have enough on its plate having to negotiate with landowners and First Nations and to make its project is both profitable and safe? Isn’t it already providing the benefits of new employment, as well as moving a resource that will keep gas prices from ever escalating in Vancouver?

Little wonder oil and gas companies look at this bill and shift their investment to the U.S.

I asked Senator Paula Simons of Edmonton, who is on the C-69 committee, what she thought of Mitchell’s milk comment.

“That was not to me a happy example,” Simons said. “It is certainly not an example that I would give as an example of gender-based analysis.”

Fair enough, but unfortunately it’s the example Mitchell used. If Mitchell says the grocery list is integral to proper industrial regulation, others will do so as well, perhaps even an activist judge with the power to shut down a major project.

When I mentioned this concern to Simons, she said such a scenario could be avoided if the Senate adopts a package of C-69 amendments put forward by Senator Howard Wetston, a former judge and former lead counsel of the National Energy board.

The thrust of Wetston’s amendments is to remove decision-making power from federal cabinet ministers and put it in the hands of the assessment agency, thus depoliticizing the process

Wetston’s plan sounds sensible, as do many suggestions from Conservative Senators. For example, Senator Doug Black of Alberta says only those people with a real and substantial interest in a project should be allowed to testify at hearings.

Black also says one additional focus of the assessment must be a project’s economic impact, including if it pushes forward prosperity.

This, too, sounds like a fine amendment. With new industrial activity, new jobs and new prosperity, perhaps everyone can afford milk.

dstaples@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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