Panel poses six questions for federal approval of Trans Mountain pipeline

CALGARY – A panel struck last May to identify gaps in reviews of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion says the government must answer six key questions before deciding the fate of the $6.8-billion project.

In its report released Thursday, the three-member panel, which heard from thousands of people from Alberta and B.C. at meetings and via an online questionnaire, says its mandate doesn’t include making conclusions or recommendations.

Instead, it said the government must ask itself questions such as how construction of the pipeline can be reconciled with Canada’s climate change commitments and how the government can be confident in its decision given “perceived flaws” in the National Energy Board and other regulatory processes.

Trans Mountain’s project is the first to face the additional review between NEB conditional approval, which it received last spring, and a ruling by the federal government, expected before Dec. 19.

Environmental groups said the report suggests Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government should reject the pipeline, and they vowed more civil disobedience if it doesn’t.

“The questions raised by his own panel, about how Canada can square this pipeline with climate commitments and promises to respect Indigenous rights, remain unanswered,” said environmentalist Clayton Thomas-Muller of in a statement.

In its response to the report, Greenpeace Canada issued a public invitation to civil disobedience training sessions it plans to host across Canada, including one next week in Vancouver.

“Trudeau’s election platform promised that while governments hand out permits, only communities can grant permission,” said campaigner Earyn Wheatley.

“This workshop will show how you can withdraw your consent in ways that the government can’t ignore.”

In a brief statement, Trans Mountain said it supports the government’s process to encourage participation from Canadians.

The ministerial panel report released Thursday by Natural Resources Canada posed the question of how, in the absence of a national energy strategy, any project can be effectively assessed. It also asked how the government can meet its commitment to gain consent from First Nations for major projects.

The government must also answer what pipeline route best ensures safety and how federal policy defines terms such as “social licence” and “Canadian public interest,” the panel wrote.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in a statement the report will be an “important element” in the government’s decision.

The panel said most of the over 35,000 people who responded to the online questionnaire said they support the Trans Mountain project.

Follow @HealingSlowly on Twitter.