Canada's offshore boards are captured by industry

People in Halifax unwelcomed BP while the company's drilling rig was en route to Nova Scotia waters without consent of the Mi'kmaq people or having a permit from the CNSOPB to enter Nova Scotia's waters.

BP has been approved to drill offshore Nova Scotia despite its weak safety record, poor emergency planning, and lack of protection for our many fisheries and fishers. Why has this project been approved when it comes along with so many risks?

The CNSOPB is a captured bureaucracy

Across Canada, the playing field is tipped in favour of corporations. The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) is tasked to both promote and regulate the offshore industry. The board itself is dominated by ex-industry leaders. Of the six members of the board, four have oil industry backgrounds.

In order for us to have faith in regulators, we need to have our interests represented in decision making processes. Where is the Mi’kmaq representation? Where are the fishers? Where are the conservation groups? These groups are not given the same access to decision making as fossil fuel companies are.

Inadequate consultation

The CNSOPB’s consultation with community organizations amounts to window dressing. The groups affected typically don’t have access to independent information about the risks of BP’s proposal, nor the funds to do the research necessary to engage in consultation in a meaningful way. The information we have to work with comes directly from the company trying to get its project approved.

There are no genuine public hearings in this process. In the case of the recent BP approval, the CNSOPB invited people to hear presentations which were followed by inadequate time for attendees to speak and be heard. No resources are allocated to help community representatives to prepare and conduct independent research. There is no clear path between consultation meetings and decision making. We did not participate in the consultations around BP’s project because they were not conducted in a way we believe to be fair or useful.

With its unrealistic application and minimal public engagement, BP was granted approval by Environment and Climate Change Canada minister Catherine McKenna, whose approval said that BP was “not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."

So we see a regulatory board dominated by industry players, a public disempowered by a lack of information and influence on decision makers, and a company putting our oceans at risk without recourse. This is corporate capture.

Bill C-69: handing even more power to industry captured regulators

In 2015, the Liberal government said they would undo Stephen Harper’s gutting of water protections and incorporate more modern safeguards into water-related law. Instead, they introduced Bill C-69 which suggests that the Minister of Environment could override any protections afforded to waterways in the name of fossil fuel development. This bill proposes handing some environmental assessment powers to the CNSOPB and its Newfoundland and Labrador counterpart, CNLOPB, even though this adds to the already blatant conflict between the boards’ promotional and regulatory functions. Bill C-69 does not respect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the explicit need for Indigenous nations to give free, prior, and informed consent for resource development projects, and is out of step with Trudeau’s commitment to bringing all Canadian law into alignment with UNDRIP.

In essence, Bill C-69 will only make it easier for corporations to blow through regulatory processes, and make it harder for grassroots and Indigenous people to be part of important decisions about our energy future.

What does this mean for communities?

When industry is regulated by agencies dominated by industry players, these agencies are handed undue power to make decisions, and when consultation is a sham, ordinary people are pushed out of the decision making equation.

Our needs and goals, and those of our communities, are not considered when powerful corporations like BP want to extract our natural resources.

What about the natural resources we already use, like our fisheries and coasts? What about our water and land? In a captured bureaucracy the oil and gas industry is prioritized over other industries like fisheries and tourism. Other industries have been left out of the conversation around BP and Bill C-69, as evidenced by the lack of meaningful consultation with fishermen’s associations and small owner-operators.

During our Offshore Drilling: Worth the Risk? tour, we met with fishers from across Southwest Nova Scotia. Of the few fishers that knew about BP’s plans, almost all their information came directly from the CNSOPB or BP, and the few that had been consulted did not feel that their deep concerns for their livelihoods were being truly heard by the regulator.

What does this mean for Indigenous Peoples?

There are a number of rights enshrined into treaty, including the right to hunt and fish for a moderate livelihood. These treaty rights extend into all waters and oceans in Mi’kma’ki. Mi’kmaq fishers in the Kespukwitk and Sipekne’katik districts, and across Mi’kma’ki, continue to fish for lobster, eel, bass, and other fishes for food and livelihood. To allow BP or any other company to put these fisheries at risk is to open the door to infringing on treaty rights.

Not only are fishing rights being put at risk, but grassroots Mi’kmaq treaty rights holders have not been adequately consulted about this project or any other offshore developments. Band governments have been consulted, but it is important to recognize that these bands are given specific governing responsibilities on Mi’kmaq reserves through the Indian Act. The Act is a piece of colonial legislation that many Mi’kmaq people cite as a huge source of ongoing suffering and disempowerment for Indigenous peoples. These band governments do not represent the Mi’kmaq Nation, but rather they are the interface between the federal government and individual First Nations reserves. The Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative negotiation Office (KMKNO) does not represent all Mi'kmaq communities in Nova Scotia, as Sipekne'katik is not a member, and that body is made up of Indian Act band chiefs and councils and is considered a termination table by many.

For the federal government and the CNSOPB to consider that consultation with the Mi’kmaq Nation is complete after speaking only to Band councils and the KMKNO is disingenuous as best, and malicious as worst. Grassroots Mi’kmaq communities are not represented adequately by their band governments, and so a different consultation process is needed.

We need regulators that exist to serve the people, not corporations

TAKE ACTION:

Visit www.canadians.org/offshore-drilling to find out how you can take action to help protect communities, fisheries, tourism and our climate from Big Oil.