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Federal Politics
BC Politics

Why I Got Arrested Protesting the Kinder Morgan Pipeline

Billions of dollars for a pipeline would be better spent on social housing, job creation and renewable energy.

Jean Swanson 11 Jul

Jean Swanson was awarded the Order of Canada in 2016 for “her long-standing devotion to social justice, notably for her work with the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.” She is author of the book, Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion (2001). Over the past decade she has been an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project and Raise the Rates BC. She is a city council candidate for COPE in the upcoming civic election.

For the last decade I’ve worked with others in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver to try to get housing built that low income people can afford. It’s desperately needed because there are about 1,200 homeless people just in that neighbourhood, rents in SRO rooming houses are escalating with gentrification, and hundreds of other SRO rooms are closing.

So what does this have to do with me getting arrested, along with over 200 others, protesting the Government of Canada’s oil pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby?

Our federal government has decided to pay $4.5 billion for this aging pipeline. Billions more will be required to upgrade the pipeline as its old owner, Kinder Morgan, planned. Some estimates say it will cost about $12 billion altogether.

For $12 billion the federal government could create 240,000 person years of work at $50,000 a year. We could put people to work across the country building renewable energy in every community. Switching to geothermal, neighbourhood block heating, wind and wave would put us ahead of the game as oil fields fall out of production and climate chaos intensifies with superstorms and severe weather.

It's also a much better investment to build social housing. It actually saves government $20,000 per year to house someone who's homeless rather than keep them on the street — that’s because of unnecessary policing and hospital costs.

Communities across the country understand this, and I think the federal government should invest in communities instead of Texas oil companies and dinosaur technology.

For example, a number of us have been working to get government funding so that the housing at 58 West Hastings in the Downtown Eastside can be for people who are on welfare, disability and pensions. We’ve held community BBQ’s on the site, organized two tent cities, a paint in, invaded city hall, blockaded city hall, invited the mayor to a community meeting, held other town hall meetings, invaded city hall again, and on and on. Even though the mayor promised that the site would be for 100 per cent community-controlled welfare/pension rate housing, it still isn’t happening.

The city says they will look for opportunities for more funding, but those opportunities haven’t materialized. The building is well on its way to being built with half to two thirds of the units totally unaffordable for people on welfare, disability and pensions who desperately need a roof over their heads. For just a few million dollar4s a community could actually get what they need. But they won’t even though Trudeau seems to have all the money in the world for a pipeline that’s actually dangerous.

Of course there are a lot of other reasons why Trudeau’s pipeline decision is appalling. It’s contributing to global warming. It’s increasing the likelihood of oil spills on land and water. It’s violating Indigenous rights to say what they want to happen on their lands. And it’s enriching a Texas oil company that doesn’t really need the money.

Anyone can see the writing on the wall: there will be a lot more arrests as people who care about the country and the planet fight for what makes sense.  [Tyee]

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