By Laura Keil

On July 10th the Canada Energy Regulator – the federal agency overseeing pipelines – issued an Inspection Order to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project for not properly addressing socioeconomic issues – specifically housing – related to construction by not following its own Socio-Economic Effects Monitoring Plan.

During a review, an Inspection Officer and Indigenous Monitors determined Trans Mountain was not properly incorporating qualitative data related to worker and local business accommodations in the North Thompson Region. The Energy Regulator said it also received direct community feedback on these issues.

To locals who have been dealing with the negative effects of the pipeline construction and the short-sighted decisions made by TMX and the Energy Regulator, this latest sanction is dryly laughable. It is simply too little too late.

The community has benefited greatly in many ways from the pipeline. It is not about blackballing an entire project or the many great people working for it. But I find it troubling that the housing woes and grocery shortages were so easily ignored for so long. They were treated as “costs of business,” only it was the community (including those working for the pipeline) that paid. Surely we could have found solutions, if only we’d been able to collectively acknowledge the problems.

The Socio-Economic Effects Monitoring Plan is a framework to monitor impacts on communities during project construction. But a framework can’t do anything if no one is monitoring reality. Reading through the plan now, it’s hard to believe anything could have gone wrong. The plan is full of lofty pledges and glossy jargon. 

But it shouldn’t be surprising that a company can’t police its own impacts. It is a conflict of interest.

Perhaps the population of Valemount was too quiet. Or perhaps there were mixed messages. That said, the Goat has been reporting and writing editorials about pressures on the local housing situation for more than two years. Now it seems the Energy Regulator has taken a page out of Trans Mountain’s book in their own rhetoric: “If the community is being negatively impacted, Trans Mountain must take steps to lessen impacts,” the Energy Regulator said. “Companies must be proactive in managing socio-economic impacts during project construction.”

Well, yes. They should. But not three months before the end of the project after three years of impacts.

Obviously it’s too late for this project. But there needs to be take-aways for other projects, and a more effective feedback loop between the public and the Energy Regulator. And perhaps feedback should be made public so others can see what’s being said, or at least the category of complaint. Another suggestion: in the Trans Mountain ads that ran in the newspaper and online, the email listed there could have been an email inviting feedback with every email copied to the Energy Regulator.

The Energy Regulator has ordered Trans Mountain to address their concerns and fill in missing data by Aug 4th, 2023. The company was also asked to provide a description of learnings related to monitoring project-related socio-economic effects and provide a corrective action plan that includes how it will ensure qualitative data is included in future monitoring reports.

Under current planning, Trans Mountain expects the number of expansion project workers in Valemount to decrease from 300 in August to a full wrap-up by the end of October.

At the height of construction, some 2,000 workers called Valemount home, double the local population. Rents skyrocketed to $2,000/month per room, and up to approx. $8,000 for a house, with regular food shortages at the grocery store.

If the Energy Regulator is serious about its sanctions, the punishment should fit the crime: get TMX to build an apartment, perhaps one with space for a grocery store on the main level. Long-term housing options in exchange for complacency on workforce housing while it was here.

What do you think? 

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