Posted at: http://www.metronews.ca/views/winnipeg/urban-compass/2015/11/30/first-nations-elders-fighting-for-outside-voices-at-neb-table.html
SHANNON VANRAES/FOR METRO Representatives of Enbridge and the National Energy Board listen to a drum group at Sagkeeng First Nation’s Turtle Lodge as part of a day of ceremony knowledge sharing, as elders shared a statement regarding the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project.
Monday, in a nondescript meeting room at a Winnipeg hotel, something is happening that could alter the future of energy projects in the province and Canada as a whole. For months, a group of aboriginal elders have fought for their uncompromised voices to be heard at a hearing for a pipeline project lost amid names like “Keystone XL” and “Northern Gateway”. Despite eclipsing those projects in size and scale, Enbridge’s Line 3 hasn’t garnered much in the way of public attention. Billed by Enbridge as a replacement project, it’s in fact an expansion project. The old pipeline will be decommissioned and left underground while a new larger pipeline is installed from Hardisty, Atla., to Superior, Wis. The aboriginal elders have information and insight they believe could help guide Enbridge and the National Energy Board (NEB), but changes made by the previous federal government have severely curtailed their ability to participate in the NEB hearing process. If for some reason this doesn’t strike you as important, you might be asking yourself: How does this affect me? I’ll tell you. Line 3 is a harbinger of things to come. If the NEB continues along the path it’s on, your voice, your neighbour’s voice, anyone who raises concern or questions regarding future energy projects or future pipelines will struggle to be heard as the NEB races to meet the ridiculous 15 month deadline set by the last Conservative government. Winnipeg is not part of the Line 3 route, but it is on TransCanada’s proposed 4,600-kilometre Energy East pipeline — a mix of repurposed and new pipelines, passing through the same area as the Winnipeg aqueduct. Under the current NEB mandate the approval process will rush ahead, limit interveners, cut short submissions, restrict their format and force stakeholders to present positions blindly by denying them adequate information and preparation time. This is not about whether pipelines are good or bad, necessary or unnecessary. It about our rights as citizens to participate when our environment, our economy and even our place in the world hangs in the balance. Energy companies need the legitimacy that comes with a fulsome and well respected regulatory approval process as much as interveners need to have their concerns heard, respected and considered. Bringing us back to the aboriginal elders who are testifying at an NEB hearing in Winnipeg today. Their determination to speak in an uncompromised voice has brought the NEB’s processes into the light and forced the door open for more reasonable consideration of interveners — albeit slightly — but it is a key move in the fight for a fair process, one that brings pressure to the new federal government to make to restore balance to the process. And it’s a move that Winnipeggers will appreciate all the more when it is our city’s turn to try and find a seat at the NEB table. Shannon VanRaes is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photojournalist who spends her days contributing to the Manitoba Co-operator and her nights covering urban affairs. She can be reached on Twitter @ShannonVanRaes.