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Trudeau chooses Kinder Morgan over Indigenous rights and green jobs

Isabelle Rowe-Codner and Michael Fenn

November 30, 2016

Yesterday afternoon Justin Trudeau held British Columbia at the edge of their seats. It was time for the long-awaited and highly contentious decision on the construction of three major pipelines through BC, and the Prime Minister wasted no time before making sure everybody knew how progressive he really was.

He reiterated that after the federal election, the people were calling on him to “build an economy that works for the middle class and protect our environment, so we can leave a better, cleaner country to our kids.” A somber tone, a few keywords, and a lot of moralizing later, it was beginning to look as if he might just reject pipelines, and that this promise might be met. But unfortunately for British Columbians across the board, the result was a lot more anti-climatic. Justin Trudeau approved construction of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion, and the Enbridge Line 3 project, while rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Of course, it really comes as no surprise that Trudeau folded the way he did. Up until this moment, the majority his action on this issue has been more or less for publicity, trying to find a way to paint pipelines green. He reaffirmed yesterday his proposition to use these future pipelines in an effort build the economy, so that he can invest in “clean energy,” and divest from coal. He wants to “use today’s wealth to create tomorrow’s opportunity.” To some, it might come as glaringly clear that this is merely pandering rhetoric. How does he plan on fulfilling other economic promises in regards to the pipelines as well as this one? Where has the precedent ever been set so that we can trust him? Has there ever been an increase in renewable investment as a direct result of pipeline growth?

“We said indigenous peoples must be respected, and be a part of the process.” This was unfortunately the deepest he delved on his actions with First Nations communities, referring to them multiple times in the conference, but never expanding on their role or concerns. He tossed around the word “consultation” a few times as well, bragging about the effort his government has put in to talking with Indigenous peoples—but as any climate activist will tell you, consultation does not mean consent. 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, head of The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has refused in giving any consent to pipeline construction, and was even arrested at the Burnaby Mountain protest against Kinder Morgan in 2014. Most recently, at a rally in Vancouver which included thousands of anti-KM protesters, the Grand Chief along with Vancouver Climate Convergence led a pledge to do “whatever it takes” to stop pipeline construction. It seems that consent only matters to Trudeau if it is convenient to him.

“If they don’t go through, they’re going by rail.” This has been a key piece of rhetoric from the pro-pipeline camp, with Trudeau yesterday moralizing his decisions as a lesser-evil to transporting oil by train. Publications from Forbes to The Financial Post have been clamouring over a study by the Fraser Institute which states that pipelines are indeed a safer method of transport. Of course, this is a straw-man argument coming from the Prime Minister himself. The great deception of this iteration is that climate activists in Vancouver are just as opposed to rail transport as pipeline transport. The climate stance is anti-transport altogether. We don’t want Kinder Morgan because we don’t want crude oil.  


Kinder Morgan’s aim is to build a pipeline which will function for oil export, which means none of the oil being shipped would be used for domestic purposes. We already have more than enough in that regard. With that, Justin Trudeau hailed the economic benefits that would follow from more pipelines, followed by BC premier Christy Clark in her press conference this morning. When asked about jobs being produced from this project, and pressed on the statistic that KM would only create 50 long term jobs from their pipeline, Clark had this to say: “Construction jobs are real jobs for a lot of people and it’s going to take a long time for it to be built. With Site C for example there are going to be 10000 jobs building it – those are good, solid, family-supporting jobs. Now once it’s built those construction (workers) will move on to other jobs in LNG and building pipelines, and all the rest of it – but those are good family-supporting jobs! We want to make sure that as many of those jobs go to British Columbians as possible, and we need to have more discussion about other benefits that would come from the pipeline. Because from the very beginning I’ve said: We bear in BC the bulk of the risk for this so we want to make sure that we get a fair benefit from it as well. More work to do on that.”

As is evident from her plans on future construction jobs, investing in renewable energy isn’t their main concern. Their “clean energy” promises really mean more LNG, another disaster to the planet somehow heralded as eco-friendly. Throughout the press conference she also made clear that there is no real plan for BC workers getting their “fair share” of pipeline profits. In fact the group Conversations for Responsible Economic Development has determined that “the expansion would not make a significant contribution to provincial tax revenues.” On top of that, they also claim that a spill could cost billions of dollar, which the company at fault would only have to pay a fraction of due to oil subsidies, meaning the rest would come straight from our tax dollars.

They tell us that this is the best option for us, it is in our common good. They say that this is safe (though Clark says they still have sections of the Ocean Protection Plan they are yet to “understand”), that it will create jobs and increase revenue. But the reality is that our government wants to build a pipeline through unceded Indigenous territory in order to export a depreciative asset at the cost of taxpayers—giving us only 50 jobs in return, our “fair share.” The money wasted on tar sands could create thousands more green jobs, so clearly pipeline proponents don't care about jobs. The lust for oil is fueled by oil corporations too entrenched in the amoral drive for capital to rescind their position in the markets and help invest in our futures, and our politicians are in their pockets. It is capitalism versus the environment, and Trudeau has just has signaled a call to arms.

No consent, no pipeline

Just hours after Justin Trudeau’s announcement, a large gathering of 300-400 protesters filled CBC plaza downtown Vancouver. Protestors gathered for about an hour and half for chanting, drumming, and speeches from various Indigenous and environmental activist/leaders taking to the street, marching and chanting for several blocks along Robson St., to the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Protestors were outraged with Trudeau’s breaking of campaign promises he made during his election campaign last fall. First to respect the rights of both indigenous and non-indigenous communities, for proper consultation and consent over pipeline and other industrial projects. And second to protect the environment and steer Canada into sustainable development for future generations, reiterating his promised to honor the Paris climate accord to reduce emissions levels in keeping with the 1.5 degree target scientists warn is the threshold to avoid “catastrophic” climate change.

Union of BC Indian Chiefs vice president, Chief Bob Chamberlin of Kwikwasut’inuxw nation, described the decision as a betrayal: “Some people have two faces and I think that we’re seeing that today. When I consider the election promises of this government and the commitments that were made after the election to First Nations people, the decision today does not reflect that.”

He added that while Ottawa may have given the go-ahead, Trudeau doesn’t get the last say on the decision: “I have every confidence that this is only the beginning of a very long struggle for this government. I cannot see the Kinder Morgan pipeline being built, it’s that simple.”

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