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Tories Duck Responsibility for Harper Regulatory Rollback that Caused Trans Mountain Delay

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Federal Conservatives are trying to duck responsibility for legislative rollbacks and regulatory decisions during the Stephen Harper years that sowed the seeds for last week’s Federal Court of Appeal decision that at least temporarily halted the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

After the appeal court released its landmark ruling [1] last week, federal opposition leader Andrew Scheer and his Alberta counterpart, former senior Harper minister Jason Kenney, pounced on the opportunity to load all the blame for the National Energy Board (NEB)’s dysfunctional processes on Trudeau. In Ottawa Tuesday, opposition MPs tried unsuccessfully [2] to convene special hearings before the Commons Natural Resources Committee to dig into the matter in more detail.

But “while the ruling blamed both the Harper and Trudeau governments for the mistakes that led it to revoke the approval, Tory finance critic Pierre Poilievre summoned reporters to a news conference on Tuesday to criticize Trudeau,” National Observer reports.

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In the ruling, Justice Eleanor Dawson said the Trudeau government received “flawed” recommendations from the NEB, after the Harper government ordered it to review the project. But the Board’s decision to exclude tanker traffic from its assessment—which Dawson called a “critical error”, leading to a chain reaction of “unacceptable deficiencies” in the final report—was made in 2014, when Harper was in charge.

Moreover, “the review was done under rules that were changed by a major overhaul of Canada’s environmental laws by the Harper government in 2012,” Observer notes. “Several critics, including federal Liberals while in opposition, had warned that the process and rules set up by Harper were biased and damaging public confidence in the approval of major projects.”

In January 2016, just months after taking office, the Trudeau team introduced an interim review process in a bid to repair the deregulatory damage done by the Harper “reforms” and restore public confidence in the NEB. At the time, Observer recalls, Conservative natural resources critic Candice Bergen took issue with the plan, saying it added an extra approval “layer” that would only delay the project.

At the committee hearing Tuesday, NDP MP and GreenPAC endorsee Richard Cannings said there’s more than enough blame to go around. “The Liberals do deserve some of the blame here,” he said, “but the irony in calling this meeting is, this is a problem that was created by the Conservatives in the previous government.” Cannings held the Harper Conservatives responsible for “creating this mess”, the Trudeau Liberals for “failing to clean it up.”

That position received eloquent support from an unexpected quarter Monday when Toronto Sun columnist Tom Parkin declared a pox on both their houses.

“Out came Alberta Conservative Leader Jason Kenney, who blamed ‘ever-changing legal standards’ on environment and Indigenous consultation. But it was his government that lowered standards in 2012. Those standards failed to meet the test of First Nations consultation in Northern Gateway. They failed to meet the test in Trans Mountain. This was his failure, too,” Parkin wrote [4].

“And now Kenney suggests the way to stop failing in court is to further lower standards—as if further reduced consultations with First Nations will escape the court’s notice. Embarrassing. Ridiculous.”

“The Conservatives—Kenney and Scheer—broke the process, resulting in one failure. Trudeau didn’t fix the process, resulting in another,” Parkin added. “They are all to blame. They all disregarded court decisions. They all short-circuited consultations. They all delivered failure.”

So “instead of blame-throwing, they should all be apologizing—especially to Indigenous people and oil industry workers who they treated like political turnips. And apologize to all of us for buying an old pipeline and some blueprints from a rich global oil company for C$4.5 billion. It seems Kinder Morgan figured it out how the court would decide when Trudeau couldn’t.”

Appearing in Edmonton Wednesday alongside Trudeau, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley delivered a similar message.

“You all know my view [5] on the federal Court of Appeal decision,” she said [6]. “It identified some problems, including problems that, quite frankly, we inherited from a system that was set up by former prime minister Harper. We’re focused now on finding a solution.”