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OUR VIEW: Taxpayers deserve to know how much pipeline court fight is costing

People both for and against the Trans Mountain pipeline will be on pins and needles early Thursday morning.
pipeline protesters, Burnaby Mountain
Pipeline protesters on Burnaby Mountain in June. Pipeline watchers are awaiting a major court decision on Thursday from the Federal Court of Appeal.

People both for and against the Trans Mountain pipeline will be on pins and needles early Thursday morning.

That’s when the Federal Court of Appeal is scheduled to release its decision in a case that combined nearly two dozen lawsuits calling for the National Energy Board’s review of the pipeline to be overturned. (Follow this site for the breaking news.)

First Nations, including the Tsleil-Waututh, argued the federal government did not adequately consult them, although federal lawyers told the hearings extensive consultations were conducted. Environmental groups and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby also challenged the project and were supported by the province of British Columbia - an intervener in the case.

On the other side, Alberta was an intervener, arguing that the approval was based on a broad base of evidence that considered environmental, economic and Indigenous interests.

The City of Burnaby will be looking for a win in the case to erase the defeat it suffered last week when the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed its appeal of a Federal Court of Appeal ruling.

The decision marked the 17th consecutive court ruling in favour of Trans Mountain, according to the Canadian Press. 

The NOW interviewed Mayor Derek Corrigan about the court defeat, and he said a few frustrating things.

First, that he “wasn’t surprised” at the verdict.

“I don’t think we had high expectations of being successful,” he said, adding the city was compelled to go to the highest court in the country despite its low odds. “We want to exhaust our remedies. We don’t want to leave anything untried.”

For anti-pipeline folks, that’s admirable.

Generally, for taxpayers, we wonder if going after a long shot is the best use of municipal resources. We’re not saying don’t fight the pipeline in court, but lawyers aren’t cheap, so pouring money into a particular challenge that you admit you didn’t really think you’d win seems excessive.

The second frustration was Corrigan refusing to say how much the city has spent in legal fees fighting the pipeline. The question was asked a couple of times, and Corrigan kept telling the NOW he didn’t know – even when just asked for a ballpark figure, such as if it’s more than a million dollars. The mayor didn’t even offer to find out from city staff.

Corrigan also claimed the court cases aren’t a “burden” on taxpayers because the money is paid from casino revenues. That’s disingenuous of the mayor – revenue is revenue. Money taken from casino funds could be used to pay for a variety of things that now either won’t get funded or will have to be funded through general tax dollars because the casino cash has been spent elsewhere.

If the mayor wants to use casino funds, fine, but taxpayers deserve to know how much is being spent on these court costs – especially when the city is throwing money at some challenges it doesn’t realistically expect to win.

Then again, perhaps the case will go the city’s way on Thursday. Maybe then the mayor will be in the mood to be more transparent.