The British Columbia Supreme Court will review the provincial government’s financial ties to Kinder Morgan, the Texas-based pipeline multinational behind the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, less than a week before the province goes to the polls in its May 9 general election.
The announcement came just days after a highly critical report  by Ottawa-based Evidence for Democracy concluded that political interference and outsourcing of science had hindered the Christy Clark government’s ability to make sound decisions.
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The Supreme Court case began in January, when Pipe Up Network and Democracy Watch challenged the ethics of the province’s approval  of the pipeline in light of the hundreds of thousands in donations it received  from Kinder Morgan, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and other companies that stand to benefit from the project.
“We’re asking the court to quash their pipeline approval, because we believe there’s been bias,” said policy analyst and Pipe Up spokesperson Lynn Perrin. “We feel that it’s absolutely correct to name the premier in this action because we think she’s in a conflict of interest.”
Evidence for Democracy, meanwhile, reported serious gaps between science and policy, based on a survey of 1,159 scientists in 10 provincial ministries. The survey, partly funded by the Professional Employees Association, received 403 replies, a response rate of 34%. Almost half said they believed “that political interference is compromising their ministry’s ability to develop laws, policies, and programs based on scientific evidence, and that decisions are often not consistent with the best available scientific information,” E4D stated.
“Since the Liberal government was elected in 2001,” DeSmog Canada reports, “B.C.’s public service has been reduced to the smallest per capita in Canada. Departments with science-based mandates have lost 25% of staff scientists and licenced expert positions.”
“Overwhelmingly, scientists felt their ministries had insufficient resources to fulfill their mandates,” said E4D Executive Director Katie Gibbs, one of the report’s authors. At the Ministry of Energy and Mines, which oversees the province’s booming natural resources sector, 72% of respondents said they lack the resources to do their job effectively. Gibbs, who helped lead the charge for public sector science in the latter years of the Harper government, called it “unsettling” that “32% say they cannot talk to the media about their work, and 42% say they need to obtain permission before speaking to the media.”
Public sector scientists are also concerned that the provincial Liberal government has increasingly based its decisions on reports from external consultants who are often “hired by, or are employees of, the very industry or the very company that is applying for a permit,” Gibbs said. 57% of scientists surveyed believed the practice “is compromising their ministry’s ability to use the best available evidence.”
University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre Legal Director Calvin Sandborn urged the provincial government to remember that taxpayers pay for research by government scientists. “It is not information that should be manipulated by politicians,” said Sandborn. “This is more like the Trump administration.”