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Construction of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion still faces hurdles

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VANCOUVER — Barbara Gard calls her three-hectare property, nestled below the forested peak of Sumas Mountain, a “miniature Stanley Park.” Its lush trees and flowing creek reminded her of Vancouver’s majestic park, and she immediately knew she wanted to call it home.

But she said her peaceful retreat in Abbotsford, B.C., now feels more like a nightmare. Gard is among thousands of landowners along the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route who have not yet granted the Crown corporation access, and she said her dealings with the project’s owners over the years have shattered her mental health.

“It’s caused me emotional devastation,” said Gard, a 64-year-old school psychologist on medical leave from work. “They are killing me through stress and legal fees.”

Numerous hurdles remain before significant construction can begin on the massive project. Trans Mountain Corp. has not signed agreements with 33 per cent of landowners, no part of the detailed route has been approved, about half of the necessary permits are outstanding and it must meet dozens of conditions with the Canada Energy Regulator, formerly the National Energy Board.

Further, it faces resistance in southwest B.C., where landowners are digging in their heels, Indigenous groups are filing legal challenges and protesters are planning to ramp up activity.

The federal Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion last year. The parliamentary budget officer has said that if the expansion is not complete by the end of 2021, it would be fair to conclude the government overpaid for the asset.

The government said the expanded pipeline will now be operational by mid-2022.

“If all goes according to the government’s plan and hopes, then that is a realistic timeline,” said David Wright, an assistant law professor with the University of Calgary. “But there’s the significant caveat that not a lot has gone as hoped or planned from the government’s perspective in the last couple years.”

There are more than 2,500 tracts of private, Crown or Indigenous land to which Trans Mountain must gain access to build the expansion. As of July, some 1,730 — or 67 per cent — of owners had signed agreements granting the corporation entry.

Eighty-three per cent of landowners in Alberta and eastern B.C. have signed, but in the B.C. Interior and Fraser Valley, that number drops to 54 per cent. In the Lower Mainland, just 14 per cent of landowners have signed agreements.

The current Trans Mountain pipeline already runs through Gard’s property. Her frustration with the pipeline’s owners began in 2011, when she alleges workers sheared some 232 trees on her land, 80 of which they cut down entirely. The corporation denied any wrongdoing and the debate over the damage has dragged on for eight years, she said.

Gard said the corporation has not offered her fair compensation for the risk that the expansion poses to her property’s delicate ecosystem or has it explained how it will restore vegetation and protect wildlife. The process feels extremely unbalanced, where she’s facing off against the corporation’s trained negotiators and legal team, she added.

Robin Scory, another landowner in the Fraser Valley who has not yet signed an agreement, said that the pipeline’s owners have offered him “lowball” sums that are only a fraction of the property’s value. Streams on his land run directly into the Fraser River and the corporation has not explained how it would mitigate the impacts of a spill, he said.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’m not against the pipeline and I’m not a ‘pay me millions of dollars’ kind of guy, but it’s just so badly run,” Scory said.

Trans Mountain said its key objective is to treat each landowner along the route fairly and it bases its compensation on a formula related to market value, but the landowner retains ownership. The corporation also strives to be a leader in emergency preparedness and has plans for quick response in the event of any spill, it said.

In cases where Trans Mountain can’t settle with a landowner, the Canadian Energy Regulator provides a process to address differences of opinion, it said, and the regulator may ultimately grant right of entry to allow the corporation to build the pipeline.

Before a court decision last August halted the project, a process was underway to confirm the detailed route of the expansion. After the project was approved a second time in June, the regulator said the corporation must redo that process.

It means none of the detailed route has been approved. Trans Mountain has begun notifying local communities of its proposed route and is waiting for statements of opposition from affected people over 30-day periods. The energy regulator then reviews the statements and decides — segment-by-segment — whether detailed route hearings will be held and when.

The lack of route approval is already having an impact. Trans Mountain noted in an Aug. 19 letter to the regulator that it must begin construction of the Burnaby Mountain tunnel portal immediately and earth works must occur prior to the start of the peak rainy season in November. The regulator responded that it could not start work because the route is not approved.

“It’s hard to see the (detailed route approval) happening before the rainy season that they’ve cited,” said Wright.

The corporation has begun work on its two terminals in Burnaby. But Sarah Buehler, a spokeswoman for protest group Protect the Inlet, said activists aren’t staging demonstrations right now because major construction has not begun.

“At this stage, there is not enough significant construction going on for us to try to stop it. … When the time comes, you’ll probably see something like Burnaby Mountain in 2014,” she said, referring to protests that drew hundreds and led to arrests.

Trans Mountain also isn’t allowed to start work on its Edmonton terminal because a variance is still being processed and some pre-construction conditions haven’t been met. The company said it plans to begin work at the site this month and will soon start construction along the right-of-way between Edmonton and Edson.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto, Canada. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information. For most of its history, The Canadian Press has been a private, not-for-profit cooperative, owned and operated by its member newspapers. In mid-2010, however, it announced plans to become a for-profit business owned by three media companies once certain conditions are met.

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‘The pain didn’t stop:’ Study looking into slow concussion recovery in youth

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CALGARY — Kailey Lang mostly remembers the blinding headaches after a carefree trip down a waterslide at West Edmonton Mall in March left her with a concussion.

The 14-year-old from Calgary was making her second trip down the giant slide when something happened.

“It kind of went around in a loop and shot you out of the bottom. When I came out, I had this throbbing, kind of pounding pain in my head and I felt a little dizzy at first. And then the pain didn’t stop for a while,” Kailey says.

“I don’t really remember hitting my head at all.”

There was no quick recovery for Kailey, who was plagued with symptoms after she got home.

“I started to get the headaches almost daily for a few weeks. And then I started taking this medication for seizures and then the really, really extreme headaches went away.”

Kailey missed a full three weeks of school and gradually returned to class. Even then, she wasn’t allowed to participate in physical activity, says her mother, Jill Beaton.

“When she talks about her pain, it was excruciating — it was 8 or 9 out of 10. We had multiple hospital visits.

“It wasn’t until we actually went to the children’s hospital that, instead of just being sent home with regular concussion protocol, they started saying, ‘OK, there’s something going on.'”

Kailey is part of a clinical trial by Dr. Michael Esser, a pediatric neurologist who has seen plenty of concussions at the intensive care unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

He’s trying to determine why some patients who get hurt while playing sports or falling off their bikes get better right away, while others have symptoms that hang on beyond the normal recovery period.

“Kids will come in with almost exactly the same stories,” Esser says.

“One will not get better or suffer longer. And the others basically come in because they were told to, but they have no symptoms.”

Esser hopes the study’s results will lead to better treatment.

Part of the study relies on a technology that uses brain waves to study brain function changes after children are injured.

“It’s pretty sensitive in picking up when kids’ brains don’t appear to be working or they’re complaining of feeling foggy-headed or have difficulty focusing and they may have a headache,” Esser explains.

The 100 participants wear a device that looks like a swimming cap on their heads and listen to tones and words.

“The speed or the size of the waves tells us if those are normal … or if they don’t seem to be what we would expect them to be, and if that could be related to your symptoms,” he says.

“The hope is that it will actually help to tailor therapies when we’re trying to get them to recover.”

Dr. Ryan D’Arcy in Surrey, B.C., who helped develop the technology, says the brain remains a medical mystery.

“My favourite question when I’m in front of audiences is: ‘Do you know how your brain is doing today?’

“Our mission has really been around the idea that for all brain conditions — for children, for adults, for seniors, for dementia, for concussions … you need a vital sign, so we got to work and invented one.”

The National Ambulatory Care Reporting System says that between 2016 and 2017 about 46,000 concussions were diagnosed in children five to 19 years old in hospital emergency departments across Canada.

Concerns about pediatric concussions recently prompted the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation to issue a guideline for diagnosis and management.

“Prior recommendations used to demand that children simply rest, which was often misinterpreted as home jail,” Dr. Nick Reed with Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto said in a release.

“We now know that to improve recovery, it is important that children remain physically active and engaged in school as they recover from concussion, while ensuring their activities remain as safe as possible.”

The release said there are at least 35,000 pediatric hospital visits related to concussions each year in Ontario.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press



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Premier Doug Ford filmed Ontario News Now videos at least 100 times

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TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford took time out of his work days to film taxpayer-funded videos that have been criticized as partisan propaganda on at least 100 occasions during his first year in power.

A Canadian Press analysis of a year’s worth of Ontario News Now videos found that Ford filmed with them on close to a third of the days in his first year as premier.

The premier’s office said he usually spends less than five minutes at a time on ONN filming and defended the use of time and did not dispute the estimate.

“Ontario News Now is a creative way to communicate the government’s message in the modern, digital world — no different than a video press release or a digital householder,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.

One of the differences, said NDP critic Taras Natyshak, is that Ontario News Now styles itself as journalism. The spots are formatted like a TV news report, with a woman posing as a reporter interviewing the premier and cabinet ministers.

“Delivering your message on policy will always be an exercise that parliamentarians embark on and it’s an important way to communicate through all facets,” Natyshak said in an interview.

“However, trying to make it seem like this has the aspect of journalism and that he’s being questioned by a legitimate journalist, sort of, is disingenuous. He’s not receiving the hard questions that true media outlets would give him, given the opportunity.”

In Ford’s first year he held formal media availabilities, in which he takes a variety of questions from reporters, about two dozen times. He also did a handful of one-on-one interviews and called into talk radio on several occasions.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said it is a “shocking” amount of time for the premier to spend on his “personal propaganda network.”

“Rather than filming partisan videos disguised as independent media, the premier could have spent this time speaking with students, educators, and municipalities affected by his cuts,” Schreiner said in a statement. “I suggest the premier spend less time in the ONN echo chamber and more time listening to the people being hurt by his cuts.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford “should be spending his time answering the tough questions from the media rather than filming vanity spots on his own private news network.”

Ford has previously said that mainstream journalists have become irrelevant because he is “circumventing the media through our social media.”

Ontario News Now is produced and funded through PC caucus services. All recognized parties in the legislature — currently just the Tories and the NDP — get caucus service budgets for research, communications and associated staff. The total earmarked for the parties for 2018-19, the latest figures available, was $13.7 million.

“As leader of the PC caucus, the premier is responsible for helping to get our government’s message out through new and engaging content,” Yelich said.

Peter Graefe, an associate professor of political science at McMaster University, said the videos are probably not a good use of the premier’s time, but it also isn’t clear that they are helping the government — rather they may just be fostering cynicism.

It is important for all governments to communicate with citizens, he said, but there is a line between information and partisan self-promotion.

“Normally, you would expect communications to be not through the government caucuses,” he said.

The videos are not subject to government advertising rules that the auditor general oversees.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for the rules to be changed so that public money for caucus services cannot be spent on partisan advertising.

Interim Ontario director of the CTF, Jasmine Pickel, said Ford should also restore oversight powers of the auditor general.

The former Liberal government changed the criteria for what is deemed partisan advertising, and the auditor general has complained that doing so reduced her office to a rubber stamp and removed her discretion to veto ads as partisan.

The Progressive Conservatives frequently slammed the Liberals over government advertising that they said was partisan and promised during last year’s election to restore the auditor general’s powers.

But they now won’t commit to keeping that promise, only to review it.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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