The groups Democracy Watch and PIPE UP Network want a judicial review of the British Columbia government’s approval of the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, charging that donations to the BC Liberal Party biased the decision.
“The bottom line is that a reasonable, informed and thoughtful person, after thinking about it for a while, would think that the premier and the ministers would have at least been unconsciously affected by more than $560,000 in payments to the Liberal Party of British Columbia,” the petition filed today in B.C. Supreme Court said. “The KMP approval is tainted by money.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in November that the federal government had given conditional approval to Kinder Morgan to build the Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., a project that will add about six oil tankers a week leaving Vancouver.
And in January, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced the proposal had met her five conditions for pipeline approval.
It’s the provincial decision that Democracy Watch and Pipe Up are challenging. While Clark made the announcement, the signatures of Environment Minister Mary Polak and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman are on the environmental assessment certificate, the court petition said.
Besides the payments to the BC Liberal Party from Kinder Morgan and oil shippers that intend to use the pipeline, the salary the party paid to Clark creates a conflict, the court petition said.
“The premier was paid more than $300,000 by the Liberal party during the six-year period that Kinder Morgan and the KMX shippers paid more than $560,000 to the Liberal party.”
Many of the donations are for similar amounts and were made within days of each other, suggesting they may have been part of BC Liberal cash-for-access fundraising events, the filing said.
None of the allegations have been tested or proven in court.
The groups are raising money online to pay for the court action.
A spokesperson for the provincial Attorney General took questions, but did not respond by publication time.
“You’re not allowed to take part in decisions if you have even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said in an interview.
The money that Kinder Morgan and other oil interests paid to the BC Liberals “creates the appearance of a conflict for Premier Christy Clark and her cabinet ministers,” he said.
“The amount is so huge and the leader of the party is making this decision... Just because a donation is legal doesn’t make it ethical under the provincial ethics law.”
Democracy Watch recently lost a court decision where it was seeking to have two rulings by B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser regarding Clark’s salary from the party quashed.
In that ruling, the judge said the commissioner’s rulings are merely opinions and anyone seeking a judicial review of a government decision should go to court, Conacher said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
To prevent conflicts in the future, B.C. should match the Quebec political financing system that bans donations from corporations and unions and limits individual donations to $100, Conacher said.
Clark recently announced she had asked the BC Liberal Party to stop paying her money on top of her public salary, but B.C. remains one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that allows unlimited donations to political parties.