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Coastal GasLink pipeline could face federal regulatory review

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In addition to opposition from the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en Nation, the proposed Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline faces another battle that TransCanada says could put the project at risk.

The National Energy Board (NEB) launched a multi-step process last fall to determine whether the $4.8-billion pipeline should fall under federal jurisdiction and perhaps undergo further regulatory review — ​potentially delaying the project for months.

A hearing has not yet been scheduled, but the NEB has listed several filing deadlines between January and March.

The 675-kilometre pipeline, which would move natural gas from Groundbirch, B.C., to Kitimat, B.C., for international export was cleared by provincial officials by April 2016. It is owned by TransCanada Corp., now officially known as TC Energy.

But members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern B.C. who don’t support the pipeline crossing their territory established camps with fortified checkpoints, barring workers from a road and bridge they need to cross for construction activities. This week, RCMP enforced an injunction allowing workers access to the area.

The NEB case was triggered by Smithers, B.C., resident Michael Sawyer, an environmental consultant with over two decades of experience in Alberta’s energy sector, who believes the project should fall under federal jurisdiction.

TransCanada said in filings from an earlier phase in the process that if the NEB even entertained the jurisdictional question it would have grave implications.

“It would create regulatory uncertainty and inefficiency at a time when these issues are jeopardizing Canada’s global competitiveness,” said TransCanada. 

“It would put real, tangible benefits to people in B.C., including First Nations, at risk.”

The company said in an emailed statement that it was “disappointed” with the NEB’s October 2018 decision to review jurisdictional arguments.

It said the project underwent a “robust two-year environmental and technical review” through B.C.’s regulatory system.

Intervener status awarded

The NEB granted the federal government, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan intervener status on the case last December. 

Several energy companies involved in the project, like Shell Canada and PetroChina Canada, which are part of the joint venture behind the LNG terminal in Kitimat, have also been granted intervener status.  

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership, along with 11 other First Nations, requested intervener status in the first round of the process but were rejected by the NEB.

The B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines did not provide comment, but in filings the province said the project was its responsibility.

Natural Resources Canada spokeswoman Vanessa Adams said in an emailed statement the issue was up to the NEB.

The Alberta government did not respond to a request for comment.

Visit to Gidimt’en camp

Sawyer said the B.C. judge who issued the injunction ordering people at the camps to stop preventing workers from accessing the area did not have all the facts of the project before making the decision.

“The crazy thing is that the government knows of my challenge and TransCanada, but no mention of it was made in the injunction application,” said Sawyer.

“It is very peculiar that they would take these dramatic steps on a project that has a high risk of being deemed illegal.”

RCMP officers approach the barricade at the Gidimt’en camp in northern B.C. on Monday. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Sawyer said he supports the resistance by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to the natural gas project.

He visited the Gidimt’en camp last week and dropped off hundreds of pounds of potatoes, carrots and onions, along with coffee.

RCMP entered the Gidimt’en camp on Monday to enforce the injunction, arresting 14 people.

“Nothing makes better friends than a common enemy and that is what we have,” said Sawyer.

A link to Alberta? 

A Supreme Court decision, known as Westcoast, created two tests to determine whether a pipeline that begins and ends within the same province should fall under federal jurisdiction.

Sawyer’s argument hinges on the first test which rests on whether the project is “functionally integrated and subject to common management, control and direction,” according to the 1998 ruling.

“This Coastal GasLink pipeline is intended to be part of of an inter-provincial pipeline system that would bring gas from Alberta and northern B.C. out of Kitimat for export,” said Sawyer’s North Vancouver, B.C., lawyer William Andrews.

TransCanada disputes this.

In its filings, the firm states that while the project will eventually connect with the Nova Gas Transmission system, which spans Alberta and B.C., the two would operate independently. The firm also said there is currently no application on the regulatory books to connect the two systems.

When the company originally submitted the Coastal GasLink project for a federal environmental assessment in 2012, it said there would be “an interconnection with the existing [Nova Gas Transmission] System at Groundbirch.”

Michael Sawyer, a Smithers, B.C., resident has triggered a jurisdictional review of the Coastal GasLink pipeline before the National Energy Board. (Greg Brown)

After the Stephen Harper Conservative government changed the regulatory process, narrowing the types of projects covered by federal review, the assessment was stopped, leaving B.C. to approve it on its own.

Sawyer believes political machinations between Harper and the previous B.C. Liberal government of Christy Clark greased the gears for this to happen.  

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has the same suspicions.

“It’s certainly a convoluted path that the Kitimat LNG project benefited from,” said May, who failed to get intervener status with the NEB for the jurisdictional case.

“I sure would like to see it properly analyzed; I would like to see it challenged.”

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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