A $30,000 donation by TransCanada Corp. to the Northern Ontario town of Mattawa comes with a condition attached — an apparent vow of silence on TransCanada’s business activities.
While the condition makes Mattawa councillor Nico Walters uneasy, TransCanada says it isn’t meant as a gag on Mattawa, which is situated close to the company’s main pipeline.
The line is part of TransCanada’s Energy East project to convert part of the pipeline to carry oil instead of natural gas.
Mattawa Mayor Dean Backer insists everything is above-board:
“At no time have we been put on a gag order,” he said in an interview.
The issue’s roots go back to 2012, when TransCanada gave Mattawa $30,000 for a new rescue vehicle.
A formal agreement covering the donation was only drawn up this year.
One of the clauses in the agreement says this:
“The Town of Mattawa will not publicly comment on TransCanada’s operations or business projects.”
Commenting on TransCanada’s business is a sensitive point, as the company has several controversial pipeline projects on the go, in addition to Energy East.
The clause raised questions for Walters.
“It’s not right,” Walters said in an interview. He worries that the condition will keep the town from voicing concerns it might have about the pipeline.
“Basically, you’re paying someone to stay silent about a contentious issue that will potentially impact future generations,” he said.
The pipeline runs just outside the town’s boundaries, but a break in the line could affect waters upstream, Walters said.
Mayor Backer says it’s not like that at all.
He says TransCanada has a pipeline station about 60 kilometres east of Mattawa, and wanted fire protection for it.
They offered $30,000 toward a new rescue truck, if Mattawa would agree to provide fire service.
“It was a no-brainer,” Backer said.
The contentious clause “has nothing to do with Energy East,” he said; it was inserted to protect TransCanada’s jurisdiction over its own property.
Mattawa will keep working with other communities along the pipeline to have their concerns addressed about Energy East, Backer said.
TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata said the no-comment clause was inserted to protect town councils from feeling pressured to support TransCanada projects elsewhere.
“In recent years, we have found that communities we enter into partnerships with have at times been targeted by opponents of our projects in Canada and the United States, and have felt pressured to make public statements on our behalf in support of projects not related to them and sometimes located thousands of miles away,” he said.
“The language in the agreement was designed to prevent municipalities from feeling obligated to make public comments on our behalf about projects that did not impact them and about which they had no experience or knowledge.”
“If the Town of Mattawa or any other municipality expressed a concern that the contract would in any way have limited their ability to take part in a full and open discussion about the Canadian Mainline or Energy East, we would have removed it,” he wrote.
“We will also amend the contract to remove that clause on a go-forward basis if necessary.”
Not everyone is persuaded.
Walters said he voted in favour of the agreement, including the controversial no-comment clause, but now regrets it.
“I had a hard time sleeping that night,” he said.
Adam Scott of Environmental Defence said in an interview that the no-comment clause reads like a gag order.
Local councils need to be asking tough questions about pipeline safety, he said, and this clause could limit them.
“They’re taking hush money to shut up, and that means they’re not looking out for the best interest of their community,” he said.