Day Eleven: March 17, 2006

The hearings are way behind schedule, but I need to depart for Ottawa today. At time of writing, Robert Hornal, the JRP chair, has not announced whether the JRP would continue its hearings over the weekend, or defer the important presentations from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada until next week (Paul Falvo will be replacing me for the second week of the hearings.

First up on Friday morning are Don Davies and Chris Heuer on behalf of the proponents asking questions of the Environment Canada. Heuer’s key contention is that climate change and climate variability will have no significant environmental effects on a pipeline buried 1.5 m in the ground. The proponents are not prepared to accept any of Environment Canada’s recommendations.

Heuer used the occasion of the questioning of Environment Canada to make several 5 minute statements recapitulating the proponents’ views and adding some new information not presented during the three days taken in presenting and questioning the proponents’ work. I am amazed that neither the chair nor legal counsel for the Panel, nor any of the four of five federal lawyers present, object to this misuse of the interrogation period. Someone more cynical than myself might leap to the conclusion that the bureaucrats have been utterly cowed by Imperial Oil and their political masters in Ottawa.

In opening my questioning, I request that the Panel rule on this practice of using the interrogation period as an opportunity to make statements by way of rebuttal or recapitulation of earlier testimony. I argue that if the proponents’ are to be allowed to use their questioning time in this way, the same opportunity should be afforded to intervenors.

My questions to Environment Canada focus on the acceleration of climate change caused by the greater absorption of solar energy by open ocean than white sea ice as Arctic summer sea ice melts, and the impacts of the accelerating loss of ice into global oceans from the West Antarctic ice sheet and Greenland ice cap.

The answers do not assist in developing the case that I had thought Environment Canada had wanted to make. I also asked why Environment Canada had stopped gathering snowfall and snow depth information when this information is crucial to the proponent in planning the development of the snow and ice pads that serve as foundations for heavy equipment operating on permafrost.

Reflecting on the week, I am struck more than ever by how bizarre it is that Sierra Club of Canada is the only organization asking questions at this set of hearings that is not either government or industry. And I am the only person here on behalf of SCC. As much as I appreciate the serious commitment that Sierra Legal has made in bringing Paul Falvo and Sean Nixon on as legal counsel, we really need more horsepower.

As it is, the arrogance and tremendous resources of the proponent, combined with the pusillinamity of government officials (perhaps imposed by their ministers in Ottawa), and lack of effective representation of civil society (with the possible exception of SCC, WWF Canada and Alternatives North) are driving outcomes that will be bad for the North and for Canada , albeit highly profitable for Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil.

Time to step up to the plate folks.