Citizen Action Monitor

Revisiting 2016 event when Trudeau misled Canadians about KM pipeline decision-making process

His Trans Mountain approval prompted scientists to question what he meant by “science- and evidence-based decision-making”

No 2170 Posted by fw, February 28, 2018

Carol Linnitt

“[On November 29, 2016] Trudeau along with members of his cabinet approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline under a review process so thoroughly broken, Trudeau campaigned on the explicit promise to scrap it entirely. But that’s not what happened and last month scientists were again baffled at the cooptation of the language of science in the pipeline’s approval. … ‘This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and on evidence. We will not be swayed by political arguments,’ Trudeau said. … For [SFU prof. Wendy] Palen, the announcement was particularly confounding. Along with two co-authors, Palen wrote to Trudeau in the weeks prior to the pipeline announcement informing him of a new analysis that identified significant gaps in knowledge and research specifically on the impacts of Alberta oilsands crude, known as bitumen, on marine organisms. ‘I heard many of my colleagues wonder what the government really means by ‘evidence-based decision-making’ because those aren’t just empty words — they have a really specific meaning to those of us in science policy and in scientific fields.’”Carol Linnitt, DeSmog Canada

Carol Linnitt is Managing Editor and Director of Research for DeSmog Canada. Carol is a writer and researcher focusing on energy development, environmental policy and wildlife.

In a February 14, 2018 repost of an article that I titled Trudeau government’s new environmental review laws fail promise of evidence-based decisions, Jamie Kneen, the author of the piece, worried that failure to set strict evidence-based decision criteria can open door to self-interested political decisions.

In the process of preparing that post I came across Linnitt’s excellent December 15, 2016 report in DeSmog Canada. Given the profound concern of Canada’s scientific community over Trudeau’s misleading characterization of the Trans Mountain pipeline decision, I decided to repost an abridged version of it here today.

Moreover, yesterday’s repost of an Op-Ed piece by Mark Jaccard that I titled Trudeau and Notley’s Orwellian climate plan – “Reduce carbon emissions by increasing them” should raise the public’s concerns about the trustworthiness of our political leaders’ decisions related to Alberta’s oilsands. What else might they not be telling us about their short-sighted, dangerous decision to expand oilsands production?

The repost appears below with my added subheadings and text highlighting. To read Carol’s complete article, click on the following linked title.

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Canadian Scientists Say They’re Unsure What Trudeau Means When He Says ‘Science’ by Carol Linnitt, DeSmog Canada, December 15, 2016

On the 2015 campaign trail, Justin Trudeau promised change on the issue of science

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned aggressively on the issue of science in the lead up to the last federal election. And it makes sense that he did: for the first time ever in Canadian history the issue of scientific integrity was a major election issue for voters across the nation.

Images of shuttered libraries, gagged scientists and dumpsters full of books haunted the Canadian imagination under the Harper government.

Trudeau promised to change all of that. Brandishing the language of the scientific community itself Trudeau painted a vision of a Canadian scientific renaissance, with the restoration of scientific integrity and the veritable holy grail of political vows: evidence-based decision-making.

Prof. Wendy Palen was “personally thrilled” with the Liberal’s vocal support for science

“As a scientist, I was personally thrilled with the Liberal government’s vocal support for science, especially regarding the critical role that scientific evidence should play in informed decision-making,” Wendy Palen, associate professor and biologist at Simon Fraser University, told DeSmog Canada.

In the early days of Trudeau’s government, Canada’s scientific community was optimistic

In the early days of the federal government under Trudeau, there were several events that shored up that sense of optimism including the anchoring of ministerial duties in science in open mandate letters and restored funding for research in the first Liberal budget.

Trudeau also promised to bring social and scientific credibility back to the environmental assessments of major resource projects.

“I think I can say the scientific community breathed a sigh of relief over the change in attitude around science and the role of scientific decision-making,” Palen said.

But that optimism was dashed in September 2016 with the fed’s approval of a LNG terminal in BC

But, she added, that sentiment has stopped short in recent months.

In September the federal government approved the controversial Pacific Northwest LNG export terminal near Prince Rupert, B.C. The terminal is expected to become Canada’s single largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Although opposed by all major environmental organizations in B.C., the project and its treatment under the federal review system raised a number of red flags for the scientific community in particular.

Proposed for the Flora Bank estuary, a unique eelgrass bed that provides resting grounds for hundreds of thousands of juvenile salmon from the Skeena watershed, the LNG terminal’s proposed site clashed hard with biologists and members of the conservation community who say, when it comes to salmon, a worse location simply couldn’t have been selected.

LNG approval prompted scientists to send Trudeau an open letter appealing for rejection of the project’s review

The federal environmental assessment of the LNG terminal — which concluded destroyed salmon habitat could simply be rebuilt elsewhere — was so fraught with problems members of the scientific community penned an open letter to Trudeau and his cabinet, pleading with them to reject the project’s review.

In that letter, scientists detailed a fundamentally flawed assessment process in which peer-reviewed science was ignored, basic principles of scientific investigation were violated and research paid for by the project’s proponent, Malaysian-owned Petronas, was given primacy.

The fed’s ignored the appeal, and Catherine McKenna announced the project’s approval

The federal government ignored those pleas from the scientific community and on a September evening environment and climate minister Catherine McKenna announced the project’s approval.

“This project was subject to a rigorous environmental assessment and today’s announcement reflects this commitment,” she said.

BC scientists were perplexed with McKenna’s pronouncement of a “rigorous environmental assessment”

Hearing those words, many scientists in B.C. were simply perplexed.

Then came the next shocker — Team Trudeau’s approval of Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, a project he promised to scrap

More recently Trudeau along with members of his cabinet approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline under a review process so thoroughly broken, Trudeau campaigned on the explicit promise to scrap it entirely.

But that’s not what happened and last month scientists were again baffled at the cooptation of the language of science in the pipeline’s approval.

It was the language of Trudeau’s approval that confounded Prof. Wendy Palen

“This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and on evidence. We will not be swayed by political arguments,” Trudeau said. “If I thought this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast, I would reject it.”

For Palen, the announcement was particularly confounding.

Prior to Trudeau’s announcement, Palen had co-authored a letter to Trudeau alerting him to “gaps in knowledge and research”

Along with two co-authors, Palen wrote to Trudeau in the weeks prior to the pipeline announcement informing him of a new analysis that identified significant gaps in knowledge and research specifically on the impacts of Alberta oilsands crude, known as bitumen, on marine organisms.

review of over 9,000 studies found not enough is known about the potential effects of an oil spill from the tankers that will be fed by the Trans Mountain pipeline to say with certainty the project is safe.

“The government’s words and use of the words ‘evidence-based decision-making’ are starting to be questioned by myself and others in the scientific community,” Palen said.

Scientists began to question what the fed’s meant by “evidence-based decision-making”

“I heard many of my colleagues wonder what the government really means by ‘evidence-based decision-making’ because those aren’t just empty words — they have a really specific meaning to those of us in science policy and in scientific fields.”

Trudeau’s announcement clearly did not meet scientists’ understanding of “evidence-based…”

Palen said two important components of the scientific use of evidence are one, that the information is publicly available and preferably independently verified and two, that subsequent decisions are made on the basis of that evidence.

“That’s in contrast to making decisions and then subsequently backing up that decision by the selective use of science or evidence,” she said.

“That’s a big philosophical difference.”

Surprisingly, the fed’s do not have to share information on which it bases decisions – and that’s a problem

Palen said the federal government does not make publicly available the information it bases its decisions on so there is no way to independently verify the data or research undergirding these major project approvals.

Kathleen Walsh, executive director for the science-advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, said that’s a big problem for a government that wants to present itself as evidence-based.

“If government is serious about these decisions being based on science, they need to make that kind of information open and available and they need to be transparent about it,” Walsh told DeSmog Canada.

When it comes to gaps in knowledge, like on the effects of bitumen in marine environments, making evidence-based decisions becomes even more problematic.

“It’s one thing to ignore the evidence that exists but it’s another to completely ignore gaps in evidence and pretend they’re not there,” she said.

The feds are not being truthful when they declare decisions are based on evidence or science

“So for the federal government to say these decisions are based on evidence or science is not necessarily truthful.”

Walsh said she doesn’t want to elide the progress this government has made on the science file, more generally.

“Certainly there have been some big wins for them in the last weeks on science,” Walsh said, referring to the announcement of a Chief Science Advisor position as well as new rules to prevent the muzzling of federal scientists.

“But we can’t get that confused with their record and say it’s perfect.”

Making grand claims about science will become more difficult with the arrival of a Chief Science Advisor

And making those grand claims about science will become more difficult going forward when the Chief Science Advisor position is filled, Walsh said.

“That person is going to have to answer these really hard questions about evidence and government decisions. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”

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