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We can stop Trudeau’s pipeline

Bradley Hughes

July 3, 2018

Due to relentless opposition from Indigenous nations, climate activists and a number of ongoing court cases, the anti-Kinder Morgan campaign won a crucial victory in April. The company announced it was suspending construction, unless it could get a guarantee that the pipeline would be built. But then Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau swooped in to buy the existing pipeline and take over the construction of the expansion.

They are prepared to waste over $12 billion dollars to expand bitumen extraction in the tar sands, fuelling further climate chaos. If the pipeline expansion is built it will triple the amount of oil flowing through the pipeline and the number of oil tankers in the Burrard inlet will increase from three a month to 34 every month. In addition to the destruction when a spill happens, the increased tanker traffic itself will likely drive the resident killer whales in the inlet to extinction.

The dedication of the Indigenous-led climate-movement has won a victory in forcing Kinder Morgan to abandon their project. We can win the same victory over the Liberals’ pipeline, just like we stopped their war 15 years ago.

The movement that stopped the Liberals’ war

In the early 2000’s a mass movement forced the Liberal government and Prime Minster Chrétien to abandon their plans to join the war in Iraq. It’s worth looking at this history to see how we might replicate this success.

Chrétien’s Liberals were an enthusiastic pro-war party throughout the 1990’s just as the Trudeau Liberals back tar sands expansion today. In the 90’s the Liberals backed sanctions against Iraq that killed over a million Iraqis. In 1999 they sent Canadian warplanes on over 3000 bombing sorties in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. NATO planes bombed civilian targets including a passenger train and a convoy of refugees.

The Liberal enthusiasm for war continued during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. However, as the anti-war movement grew the Liberals began to waiver. The movement built mass rallies that welcomed everyone who opposed the war. This persuaded people to oppose the war despite some calls to support it if it was approved by the UN and despite the pro-war mainstream media. The movement pushed the NDP to oppose the war, with or without the UN, and this gave confidence to more people to oppose the war.

A key moment was February 15, 2003, when anti-war rallies around the world brought millions into the streets. Over 250,000 marched in Montreal and tens of thousands joined rallies in other cities across Canada. It was after this that Jean Chrétien started to back down and announced that Canada would only join the war if it was authorized by the UN.

The rallies inspired teach-ins and moved people to call, email, and visit their MP’s to make their opposition to the war known. All of this pressure led to splits in the Liberals. Backbench Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish (Mississauga-Erindale, 1993-2006) announced at an anti-war rally that “50 MPs will cross the floor” if the government decides to back the war.

In March 2003, 250,000 people again marched in Montreal against the war. At the same time, a provincial election in Quebec saw all party leaders oppose the war. An election win for the provincial Liberals would be threatened if the federal Liberals took us to war.  All of this led to victory for the anti-war movement, as Prime Minister Chrétien backed down and announced a few days before the invasion started that Canada would not join the war.

From peace movement to climate justice

There is no reason to think that the campaign to stop Trudeau’s pipeline will be a copy of the successful anti-war movement, but the anti-pipeline campaign already has many of the strengths that beat back the Liberals 15 years ago. The anti-pipeline campaign is centred around a clear demand that allows large numbers to join the movement: stop the pipeline. Within that movement groups can win people over to an understanding of Canada’s colonial oppression of Indigenous people, and to an understanding of the need to defeat capitalism in order to minimize climate chaos. But no one is required to have an understanding of these larger issues before joining the demonstrations.

The anti-pipeline movement is organizing across the country. Days after Trudeau announced the bail out of Kinder Morgan, pickets were organized at over 100 MP offices.

Also, like the anti-war movement, this movement is relying on mass demonstrations in the streets. Not only does this show the government the size of the opposition, but more importantly mass demonstrations give people the confidence to continue organizing and to argue with their families, friends, coworkers and classmates about the need to stop the pipeline.

This movement is also building across the country, even if it is largest in BC where the pipeline will be built. Also this movement is strong enough to pull some elected politicians in its wake. The federal and BC NDP have spoken out against the pipeline. The politicians aren’t important for themselves, but their support makes it easier for the movement to attract even more people—which is crucial to winning labour to oppose the pipeline.

Given the “jobs vs the environment” false dichotomy peddled by tar sands proponents, it’s important to connect opposition to the pipeline with support for far more, and far better jobs. Finance Minister Bill Morneau claims that the multi-billion dollar buyout is “the best way to protect thousands of good paying jobs,” but as federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh explained, “$4.5 billion to create what Kinder Morgan has indicated would be fewer than 3,000 jobs. That’s almost $1.8 million per job—jobs that are short-term and won’t be there for the next generation.” That the Liberals all of sudden have $12 billion to waste on a toxic pipeline shows the money is clearly available for people and the planet—including a just transition for workers in the fossil fuels, and clean water for Indigenous communities.

The leadership by the Indigenous Nations whose lands and waters are threatened by the pipeline is an immense source of strength for the movement. It is also building support for Indigenous rights to their land and exposing the hypocrisy of provincial and federal politicians who claim to support Indigenous rights, but always side with private profits. Unlike the anti-war movement, this time we also have mass civil disobedience with 200 people having been arrested for blocking Kinder Morgan already.

We must build the movement against Trudeau's pipeline across what is currently called Canada. If we can build on these strengths, support Indigenous leadership of the movement while winning over the labour movement, build a broad movement across the country that anyone can join, with mass rallies and building up to mass civil disobedience involving thousands, we can beat back the Liberals and stop this pipeline.

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