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Leaders debate winner: the tar sands

Bradley Hughes

August 7, 2015

It's the media's duty after a leadership debate to declare a winner, and here at we take our duties seriously. After much review of the Maclean's Leaders Debate, we can confidently write that the winner was the oil industry. No one in the tar sands need have any fear that a loss by the Harper Conservatives will put any dent in their ability to expand production until every last drop of bitumen is burned and most of the country is under water.
Harper of course defended all of the proposed tar sand pipeline projects and the "review process" that was rigged to give them approval. What was depressing to watch was the Green party and NDP leaders explaining the need to build better pipelines and more domestic refining.
"Objective process"
Trudeau's opposition to Harper is that he “cannot get our exports to market because there is no public trust anymore. People don't trust this government to actually look out for our long term interests.” Trudeau is criticizing Harper for the success of the climate justice movement in delaying every major pipeline project, and is trying to convince Bay Street--including Big Oil and the other corporate power that fund the Tories and the Liberals--that he can do a better job of undermining the movement and ramming through pipeline projects.

Unfortunately Mulcair made the same argument, that his criticism of the Tories wasn't in their support of the tar sands pipeline projects, but how they went about it. “Getting our resources to market is critical. But Mr. Harper has gotten the balance wrong, he's gutted our environmental legislation and he knows that's hurting jobs in our resource sector, it's hurting our economy and frankly it's hurting Canada's international reputation.“ He went to explain that if we had an “objective” review process we could get people who oppose environmentally destructive projects to approve them. 
The NDP are associated with the labour and social movements, but their ambition is to control the colonial and capitalist Canadian state, not replace it. Mulcair removed any last credibility he might have gained for opposing the Enbridge pipeline project when he said, “Opposing these pipelines in advance is just as wrong as supporting them in advance because in both cases what you need is an objective study.” He must believe that an “objective” study would disregard the opposition of First Nations' and their rights to control their lands. He must also believe that an “objective” study would disregard the decades of climate science that shows we need to leave all the oil in the soil, and most especially the extremely polluting tar sands synthetic oil. In addition to all that, even if stronger environmental regulations are put in place, we know that the oil companies don't obey the law when it comes to pipeline maintenance and spills. So, he must also believe that oil companies care more about the environment than they do about their profits.
Domestic refining vs climate jobs
The second tactic to get approval for tar sands pipelines is shared by the Greens and the NDP. As Elizabeth May explained, “Mr. Mulcair's right, every single one of these raw bitumen unprocessed oil pipeline schemes is about exporting Canadian jobs, that's why the Green Party knows it's going to oppose every single one of them.“ But the Green Party is not opposed to tar sands, and instead calls for more domestic refining. Similarly, Mulcair opposes the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines because they export unprocessed bitumen, but called the proposed Energy East pipeline a "win-win-win," for the economy, environment and jobs. But Energy East would devastate the climate, continue pouring resoures in the least efficient job creator (the oil industry) and continue basing the economy on the destruction of the planet.
Regardless of the destination of tar sands or where its processed, tar sands expansion continues industrial genocide against First Nations, from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at ground zero to the communities all along the pipeline routes. "Domestic refining," using Canadian nationalism to continue to devastate Indigenous land, is no solution. Canada's oil industry is concentrated in Chemical Valley, which surrounds and poisons Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Every year Indigenous activists organized a "toxic tour" of their community to show the environmental racism they live every day. Any pipeline expansion and any increase in "domestic refining" further erodes that community's health and their right to control their land.
The way to deal with the recession and job losses is to spend public money on building clean energy sources like solar, geothermal and wind projects, not to keep expanding the oil and gas sector by building refineries. From the UK to South Africa there are campaigns for a million climate jobs, and this has spread to Canada. May seemed to be on this track early in the debate, when she explained that “We need an army of carpenters, electricians, and contractors going out to plug leaky buildings.Thirty per cent of carbon pollution comes from the energy we waste and the money we waste heating the outdoors in the winter and cooling it in summer.” She never returned to this idea, and neither did Mulcair. Its shameful that in the midst of an economic and climate crisis that the leadership of the party associated with the labour movement can't echo the calls for climate jobs that are so urgently needed.
Climate justice
This “debate” was a win-win for the oil industries and a strategic loss for the NDP and the Greens, whose orientation to Parliament and the 1% it serves is cutting them off from the mass movements on the streets. There is a large and growing climate movement across Canada and around the world. In April 25,000 marched in Quebec City to act on climate and in July 10,000 marched for “Jobs, Justice and the Climate” in Toronto--including Unifor, which represents some of the tar sands workers. There are blockades put up by the Unist'ot'en in BC defending their land from pipelines, and there is an Anishinaabe water walk against Energy East. Over a hundred First Nations in BC have signed the Fraser River Declaration to prevent pipelines from crossing their land. All across America people have chained themselves to construction equipment to try to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
We already have a real "objective process": the increasingly dire warnings of climate science, and the lived experience of Indigenous peoples who bear the brunt of the climate crisis and who are leading the climate justice movement. The climate justice movement quite rightly dismisses every tar sands project, and the NDP should do the same. Siding with the Tories and their corporate backers to support pipelines and refinieries while quibbling over the details will only turn off voters. The NDP in BC tried the strategy of being only midly different from the ruling party and it didn't mobilize people to vote for them. The federal NDP runs the same risk, if they try to play it safe and if they don't tap into the movements and the anger people have over the climate, the wars, and the economy, they risk losing the election. Or if they win on a commitment to tar sands it will be more of the same, adding to the long history of social democracy.
With more than two months before the election we need to push the NDP to advocate climate jobs not tar sands, while supporting Indigenous communities who are defending their land and leading the climate justice movement.
On September 4-5 join the Toxic Tour in Aamjiwnaang. For more information including buses across the region, visit here.

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