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Kinder Morgan’s $645K B.C. political donations in court

Democracy Watch and Pipe Up case over political contributions advances Monday. Pipeline company calls it 'politically-motivated abuse.'

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says the five conditions her government placed on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project have been met on Jan. 11, 2017, when her government issued an environmental certificate for the project to proceed. Her lawyer denies she had any role in the decision, according to court filings this month.

DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says the five conditions her government placed on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project have been met on Jan. 11, 2017, when her government issued an environmental certificate for the project to proceed. Her lawyer denies she had any role in the decision, according to court filings this month.

What can nearly two-thirds of a million bucks buy you?

If you’re a Texas oil corporation or its local allies in British Columbia, it might help get your controversial pipeline approved, according to a lawsuit against the provincial government and firm being heard in court on Monday.

The lawsuit singles out $645,000 in political donations to the B.C. Liberals, as well as $300,000 of salary top-ups from the party to its leader, Premier Christy Clark, over her six years in power.

Clark’s lawyer denied any allegations of conflict of interest as well as any involvement of Clark in approving Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project in January, shortly before the lawsuit launched.

Lawyers for the Ottawa-based government transparency group Democracy Watch and environmentalist Pipe Up Network are arguing before a judge that the province may have been “biased” by partisan donations from Kinder Morgan and its affiliates.

“The $645,000, plus the Premier’s ($50,000-a-year) salary paid by the BC Liberal Party, caused a reasonable apprehension that Premier Clark’s participation in the decision-making process was biased,” Democracy Watch said in a statement Friday.

Their case against the province and Trans Mountain is advancing this week in the Supreme Court of B.C., and the non-profits’ lawyer Jason Gratl filed a petition that challenges the integrity of the process leading to the provincial approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

Clark’s own lawyer, David Crossin, countered on Apr. 20 that, “While the Premier believes that the allegations in the petition are entirely without merit, she takes no position with respect to this application.”

“In an attempt to re-litigate the Petitioners’ conflict of interest theories, they have attempted to characterize certain statements of the Premier as evidencing some level of involvement in the (environmental assessment) process,” Clark’s lawyer added in a separate filing Apr. 10. “... The Premier did not make a decision with respect to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project that can properly be the subject of judicial review.”

The province’s lawyers opposed the application, arguing that only B.C.’s ministers of environment and natural gas development were solely responsible for giving Kinder Morgan the green light. They also requested the judge narrow the scope being scrutinized to the short span of B.C.’s environmental assessment process, not the entire “five conditions” decision.

The petition “is a politically-motivated abuse of this court's process that raises no genuine legal issues regarding ministerial approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project,” the company argued on June 20. 

“... (It) is the latest attempt by the Petitioner, Democracy Watch, a detractor (with no direct interest in Project approval, whose arguments have already failed in conflict of interest proceedings), to publicly showcase its political views on British Columbia's campaign finance regime; and, Liberal Party's payment of a salary to their leader.”

The firm’s proposed pipeline expansion would nearly triple the flow of diluted bitumen oil from Alberta’s oil sands to its ocean terminal in Burnaby, and increase oil tanker traffic past Vancouver sevenfold. It was approved by the federal Liberals, as well as by the B.C. Liberals who said it satisfied their “five conditions” around marine and land safety, local benefits, and First Nations consultation.

“The Premier’s role in imposing the five conditions on the Kinder Morgan approval and deciding that the five conditions were satisfied,” said Gratl in a statement, “is part of the administrative process and forms a critical aspect of the decision-making context that must be assessed in determining whether the Kinder Morgan approval was tainted by bias.”

Clark long opposed demands her government rein in corporate, union and individual donations, which are unrestricted in B.C., and even allowed from outside the province and country. However, after failing to win a majority after May’s election, the Premier announced last week she would ban all corporate and union donations and cap individuals at $100 each, tearing a page from her New Democrat and Green opponents’ promises.

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