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Law Firm Wanted to Use a Member Of the Kennedy Family to Turn Pipeline Opponents In Canada

Approved in June 2014, Northern Gateway is one of the most controversial pipelines in Canada. A letter obtained by VICE News offers a behind the scenes glimpse of dealings before the approval.
September 30, 2015, 5:40pm
Photo via Flickr user Larissa Sayer

A law firm offered to enlist a member of the Kennedy family and a former Canadian prime minister to convince staunchly opposed Aboriginal and environmental groups to support the Northern Gateway pipeline project, according to a letter obtained by VICE News.

Approved in June 2014, Northern Gateway is one of the most controversial pipelines in Canada, with a signed declaration against it from 48 First Nations, opposition from municipalities, provinces and environmental groups, and a legal challenge to the pipeline by eight Indigenous groups landing in court tomorrow.

The letter was written two years ago, when the pipeline was still awaiting approval from the National Energy Board (NEB).

A lawyer with Miller Thomson, a firm that advocates on behalf of oil and gas clients, sent a letter to Northern Gateway Pipelines president John Carruthers proposing that for an initial retainer of $75,000 for the first month, the firm would introduce Carruthers to former Prime Minister John Turner, his associate Marc Kealey, lawyer Joseph Kennedy and the Pew Foundation, and that they in turn could convince the opposing groups to ultimately agree to the project.

The letter, dated May 8, 2013, states in part: "As we mentioned to you in our meeting we, and Mr. Turner in particular, have strong relationships with the Kennedy family. The Kennedy family has an international reputation of working in the best interests of aboriginal people and the environment. The Pew Foundation is highly regarded as being objective and fair-minded in its approach to environmentally sustainable development. Mr. Turner is well regarded in Canada's First Nations communities."

"We believe that Mr. Turner and Mr. Kennedy can initially help break down the barriers and then play an important ongoing role in facilitating successful engagement and ultimate agreement with key First Nations communities."

VICE News was unable to verify whether the meetings proposed in the letter ever took place, and a source with knowledge of the letter said Turner did not ultimately take part. Still, the letter offers a view behind the scenes of the pipeline approval process.

The board requires public disclosure of consultations by companies applying for pipeline projects. But the plan suggested in the letter does not need to be reviewed by the NEB.

"Agreements between a company and a third-party for services such as facilitating consultation are not subject to NEB review," NEB spokesperson Katherine Murphy told VICE News.

"Companies must describe in their applications their consultation program for the project as well as report on their consultation efforts with all interested persons and those directly affected by a project," she said.

Related: Pipeline Politics: Canada's Conflict Over Oil Spills Into Election

Enbridge declined a request by VICE News for an interview with Carruthers.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on whether Enbridge consulted with opposing groups after the letter was sent, and if so, where those meetings were disclosed.

"Building more long-term meaningful partnerships with these communities is our priority right now," Northern Gateway spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht told CBC back in February, referring to consultations with First Nations and Metis groups.

VICE News also asked Marc Kealey and former Prime Minister John Turner for comment, but they declined.

In a 2012 interview with Postmedia, Turner said the tension between Alberta and BC over Northern Gateway could be resolved.

"I could go out and solve that problem tomorrow with those two provinces," he said. "I believe under the right encouragement, it could happen. It's an opportunity for the prime minister to intervene."

VICE News reached out to former congressman and founder of Citizens Energy Corporation (CEC) Joseph Kennedy II and his son, US congressman Joseph Kennedy III. The CEC communications department said they would look into whether Kennedy had met with Enbridge to discuss the proposal, but they did not get back to us with a statement. The congressman's office did not answer questions from VICE News by press time.

When asked whether they were involved in any consultations with Northern Gateway, Pew Foundation spokesperson Shannon Ternes said in an email, "The Pew Charitable Trusts has not been involved with, nor has any position on, Canadian pipelines."

After he read the letter, environmental lawyer David Boyd called it "disturbing," saying it showed the petroleum industry's blindness toward the realities of climate change, and the unwavering positions of the indigenous and environmental opposition.

"For these elites, it's just business as usual," he told VICE News. "Money talks and everyone is supposed to listen."

"This is how the game is played," he continued. "Oil and gas pipeline companies spend millions on lobbyists and are constantly meeting with senior government officials including cabinet ministers and the prime minister. Money buys access and influence, which explains why industry lobbyists are constantly in the Prime Minister's Office, while appearances by environmental groups or First Nations are few and far between."

The NEB approved the Northern Gateway Pipeline in June 2014 with 209 conditions. Since then, reports suggest the pipeline has been quietly shelved, and Northern Gateway has pushed back the estimated date of operation from 2018 to 2019 at the earliest.

The $6.5 billion pipeline would carry up to 525,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, BC, where the oil would be available to international markets. From Kitimat, tankers would carry crude through the narrow Douglas Channel, causing alarm among First Nations along the coast who say the risk of an oil spill is unacceptable.

Nine coastal First Nations banned tanker traffic and declared their opposition to Northern Gateway in 2010.

A court challenge to the project to be heard Oct. 1 alleges errors by the Joint Review Panel (JRP) and NEB Governor In Council (GIC), as well as breaches of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Species At Risk Act, and raises concerns about the adequacy of Crown consultations in the context of First Nations land title.

Related: This Pipeline Project Will Transport More Oil From Canada's Tar Sands Than Keystone XL

The pipeline project also faces government opposition. The Union of BC Municipalities, along with individual municipalities, have passed resolutions against the pipeline. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called the project "not the right decision," citing indigenous and environmental concerns, and British Columbia's environment minister Mary Polak said in June, "Our position [on Northern Gateway] remains unchanged: It is no."

The Conservative government approved the project, but the Canadian election could upset support at the federal level. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has promised a moratorium on tanker traffic along BC's coast, which could effectively kill Northern Gateway, and NDP leader Tom Mulcair has said "allowing super tankers into the Douglas Channel is madness and it should not take place."

Northern Gateway has argued the project will create jobs within the country's borders, and will mean Alberta crude can be sold at full market price.

In its hearing submissions, the company argued that access to the Pacific Basin is an "urgently required step in managing Canada's economic future and risk, and ensuring that Canada's economy continued to grow for the benefit of all of us."

In an interview with CBC in June, Carruthers said he shares the safety concerns of the opposed groups and called the NEB process of approving the project "extremely thorough." He said 60 percent of those along the pipeline route have indicated support for the project by agreeing to partner with Northern Gateway.

"There is majority support, but clearly our job is to improve that and get more support because it's important that we're all aligned along the same aspirations," Carruthers told CBC.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont

Photo via Flickr user Larissa Sayer