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Slaying the Energy (B)East

By: 
Jesse McLaren

April 3, 2015

Adding to recent climate justice victories, mass opposition has stopped TransCanada from using Cacouna, Quebec as a terminal to take tar sands east through the Energy East pipeline.
 
Four months ago mass protests drove Kinder Morgan from taking tar sands west through Burnaby Mountain, at least for now. Then last month the mass movement against Keystone XL pushed Obama to veto the pipeline trying to take tar sands south.
 
Attention then shifted to TransCanada, which want to use its Energy East pipeline to pump more than a million barrels a day of tar sands oil east. Like the other pipeline proposals this would expand tar sands that destroy Indigenous communities and accelerate climate change that destroys the planet. In addition, the proposed terminal in Cacouna Bay would devastate the local beluga whale population that is already endangered.
 
Opposition
Fearing similar opposition that has stalled other pipelines, TransCanada hired a public relations firm to fabricate “grassroots advocacy” to support its pipeline. But this failed.
 
As Andrea Harden-Donahue from the Council of Canadians summarized, “Thousands were mobilized to march several times in Cacouna against the port. Dozens of municipalities are calling for a review or rejecting the project. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois' crowd funding effort for a local grassroots group opposing the pipeline hit over $300,000 in a matter of days. A successful injunction against the port driven by a number of Quebec environmental groups. There was a federal NDP motion against the port. Even Quebec and Albertan Premiers have said the port needs to be away from belugas. And clearly Quebec public opinion clearly not onside with the project.”    
 
As a result, TransCanada announced it will not use Cacouna Bay, but will try to find another port—which will delay the pipeline by two years. TransCanada claims that “our decision was certainly not made because of opposition,” as if oil executives miraculously grew a heart for beluga whales. Clearly the opposition did work—otherwise TransCanada wouldn’t have tried to manufacture its own movement. And clearly TransCanada doesn’t care about whales—otherwise TransCanada would cancel the terminal for Energy East in Red Head, New Brunswick, home to the endangered right whale.
 
Federal support leaking
The climate justice movement is also shaking up federal politics. While the Liberals and NDP initially supported Energy East, the movement has burst a leak in their positions—but for different reasons. The Liberals, the twin party of Canadian capitalism, have said that Energy East lacks “social licence” and would like to convince Bay Street they are the party that can win it back.
 
The NDP, associated with the labour movement, have opposed some pipelines from a jobs perspective. As their motion to the House of Commons a few months ago said, “the proposed Port of Gros-Cacouna oil terminal, which will be used for the sole purpose of exporting unprocessed Canadian oil, will have a negative impact on the Canadian economy through the loss of well-paid jobs, will constitute an unacceptable environmental threat to the St. Lawrence ecosystem, including the beluga whale population, and therefore, is not consistent with the principle of sustainable development, and must be rejected.”
 
This shows the NDP can be pushed to oppose the pipelines, but also highlights their contradictory position of counterposing the export of unprocessed oil with the domestic refining and use—and last fall the NDP tabled a bill pushing for more refineries, calling it a “jobs bill.” This reflects low horizons that reinforces the false dichotomy between jobs and the environment, and ignores tar sands expansion. Local refineries are devastating for Indigenous communities like Aamjiwnaang, tar sands expansion drives climate chaos regardless of whether the oil is exported or not, and green alternatives promote far more jobs than the oil industry. If the NDP campaigned to divert the billions invested in tar sands into green alternatives, they could be a megaphone for the movement and expose both Liberals and Tories as puppets for Big Oil.
 
The false energy strategy
Harper hoped that by ripping up environmental regulation, the National Energy Board would simply rubber-stamp projects and they would go ahead. But the movement has delayed projects and exposed the NEB. Now the provinces are stepping up the plate for Big Oil with a “Canadian Energy Strategy.”
 
According to Bloomberg, “Canada’s premiers are nearing a deal aimed at clearing a path for pipeline projects in exchange for new environmental commitments, such as potential pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions… ‘I’m very optimistic, and there’s many reasons to be optimistic,’ New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, one of four-co-leaders of the talks, said.” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is also “very optimistic” about the deal, and all this Liberal optimism should make us very pessimistic about it.
 
Gallant is pushing Energy East and Wynne has been silent on Line 9, a 40-year pipeline that Enbridge wants to use to pump tar sands east. For decades there have been endless talks of future reductions, while tar sands and pipelines have expanded. There can be no serious climate deal unless we stop the tar sands and its pipelines.
 
Alternatives
The Tories and Liberals are driving full-steam towards climate chaos—including supporting tar sands and pipelines at the federal and provincial levels, while trying to criminalize opposition through Bill C-51. In a few weeks the Tories will release the federal budget, which will keep the economy chained to oil prices, sacrificing jobs and services to save corporate profits instead of investing in green alternatives.
 
But the delay in Energy East comes at a time when oil prices have fallen and oil companies have fired hundreds of workers. At the same time there’s growing awareness of the need and possibility of a just transition to green alternatives—which create far more jobs and don’t destroy the planet on which we depend. As Naomi Klein said, “let’s kick oil while the price is down.” The movement is also intertwining with the new Quebec Spring challenging austerity. As Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois explained to the federal political parties, “There are 78 federal ridings in Quebec. If they want these ridings, they are going to have a position that reflects the opinions on the ground.”
 
There’s a timeline of resistance, which the victory in Cacouna can magnify: the April 11 Act on Climate march in Quebec City, the May 30 March to the End of the Line in Saint John to keep challenging Energy East, and the upcoming federal election to demand climate justice alternatives instead of monstrous tar sands.
 
* Sign a petition against the Premiers’ pipeline fast track deal
* Get on a bus to Quebec City for the April 11 Act on Climate march
 
If you like this article, register for Rage Against the System, a weekend conference of ideas to change the world, April 24-26 in Toronto. Sessions include “Stopping Harper’s Agenda,” “Colonialism and Indigenous resistance,” and “The fight for green jobs.”

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