On November 25, the B.C. Green Party Interim Leader, Adam Olsen, testified before the National Energy Board’s (NEB) hearings on the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. But, although Olsen’s testimony was applauded by the Green Party, his appearance before the hearings was as a representative of the Tsartlip First Nation in the WASÁNEC (Saanich) territory.
Born in Victoria, Olsen and his three siblings were raised on the Tsartlip First Nation in Brentwood Bay. Olsen continues to live on the property where he grew up.
While Olsen said that he has concerns about the pipeline’s safety, his testimony before the NEB was limited to the concerns relevant to his intervener status and the elements of the plan that directly impacted him as a representative of his First Nation.
In his testimony, Olsen emphasized the commercial and economic value of Aboriginal fisheries, which have been sustainably developed through traditional Aboriginal practices such as reef net fishing. Olsen explained that the Aboriginal legal right to carry on the fishery guaranteed by the [Douglas] treaty is unqualified.
“I am directly affected [by the Kinder Morgan project] because I am part of the Douglas Treaty and the route of shipping traffic is directly over the places that we fish, said Olsen.”
Olsen said the current level of tanker traffic is already in question given the provisions of the Douglas Treaty.
“Now, before they settle those concerns, they are proposing a plan that would see a vast increase in the number of tankers. They’ve violated one part of the contract and now, before they’ve resolved that issue, they want to add to the violation,” said Olsen.
But some of Olsen’s greatest criticisms were directed to what he calls a “poor process”.
“They removed oral cross examination from the hearings and by so doing they’ve undermined the whole process,” he said.
“Look at how most of the information on the Enbridge pipeline was finally disclosed. It came from oral cross examination. This is one of the first times that they’ve removed that part of the process. The strength of any evidence lies in its strength against cross examination. It’s a mechanism that should be available to all interveners.”
Olsen said that when decisions like this are made it does nothing to give his people or anyone else any confidence in the outcome of the hearings. He said that what is really necessary is an independent provincial government sponsored environmental assessment of the project.
“The NEB has a strong record of never saying no,” said Olsen. “They’ll approve it with a long list of conditions and by doing so they’ll kick it back to the federal government and that’ll be it. It’s a charade … theatre.”
Olsen acknowledges that he walks a bit of a tightrope between his political party and his status as a member of a First Nation, but maintains that it is in everyone’s best interest to work out the rights of First Nations before proceeding with even more violations of the original treaty.
“In the end, our issues are linked,” he said. “This process isn’t really going to calculate the grand cost. Even if you do account for the potential cost — you know, those losses of habitats, the damage to culture and tradition, the decimation of entire ways of life, I doubt you’ll put it all together.”
Olsen is not alone in his concern about the process being applied to the NEB hearings.
Marc Eliesen, a former board member of Suncor Energy, CEO of B.C. Hydro, Chair of Manitoba Hydro and deputy minister in several federal and provincial governments, recently withdrew from the hearing process, protesting that the NEB was failing in its duty to provide an unbiased, transparent evaluation.
“This is nothing more than a dog and pony show,” said Olsen.
— Tim Collins/News Contributor