By Laura Keil

After filing an Access to Information request, the Goat has finally received the compliance report from Trans Mountain ordered by the Canada Energy Regulator in July.

The Inspection Order was made to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project for not properly addressing socioeconomic issues related to construction by not following its own Socio-Economic Effects Monitoring Plan, a document created to monitor impacts on communities during construction.

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 also received direct community feedback on these issues.

Among other things, TMX was asked to provide a description of learnings related to monitoring and addressing the project’s socio-economic effects and provide a corrective action plan that includes how it will ensure qualitative data is included in future Socio-Economic Effects Monitoring Reports.

When the Goat inquired about the report in early September, we were told we’d be required to file an Access to Information request to view it, as compliance reports are not ordinarily made public. This is odd, given that the nature of the contraventions involves the community impact. In any case, the report that we were sent last week contains little that could be described as “learnings” by Trans Mountain and a lot of dodge and weave.

After conducting two surveys – one open to the broad public and one targeting rental-accommodation owners – over a 2-week period in July, the company came away with its findings that there were in fact no problems with its operations, given that its workforce was already winding down.

By July of course, the vast majority of its workforce was already gone, and the number of respondents to both surveys can hardly be described as representative in any rigorous statistical sense – 30 people in the community survey and 18 in the targeted survey. 

In their response, the company conflates two very separate issues – rental housing in private homes and commercial housing (campgrounds and hotels for example), suggesting that 70 per cent of community respondents preferred these options. In fact, only 12 people favoured private rental accommodations, since the respondent numbers were so low. 

The survey asked a lot of questions about Trans Mountain’s worker accommodations, and it’s unclear to me (and probably to survey respondents) whether that refers to the Valemount accommodation camp, or to accommodations in general used by pipeline workers.

It’s a shame that few to no actual learnings came out of this order. I guess it will take more than an industry-led post-mortem survey to shed light on the shortcomings of these massive industrial projects. It would have been nice, for example, for Trans Mountain to have built some permanent housing or contributed to a housing-legacy fund. But no one could have negotiated for these things, because, as you may recall, originally Trans Mountain said there would only be 400 workers living outside the camp. 

What a romantic estimate in hindsight. 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. Many complaints were heard from pipeline workers themselves, many of whom already owned or rented houses elsewhere.

But while Trans Mountain is guilty, so are our leaders. We also have to hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire. Where were they? Why weren’t they lobbying Trans Mountain harder to help alleviate the housing shortage and skyrocketing prices?

No doubt the boom-and-bust nature of pipeline work will continue unabated in other parts of Canada. Perhaps an independent researcher – someone in an academic field perhaps – could do a proper analysis of where things went wrong and provide some guidelines for future projects. Accountability isn’t a punishment. It’s a way to pursue excellence. Canada owes it to host communities and pipeline workers to ensure good and available living conditions where they work.