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Federal Politics

Eight Hard Questions for the PM of Pipelines and Climate Emergency

He says Canadians can have it both ways. The facts say otherwise.

Michael Harris 19 Jun

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly awarded journalist and documentary maker. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

As the planet slowly stews in its increasingly sultry juices, sled dogs are walking on water, but Justin Trudeau no longer is.

Polar bears are starving, the Arctic permafrost is melting, and glaciers are retreating faster than the PM on electoral reform and government transparency. And oh yes, as of yesterday, Canada is expanding the Trans Mountain Pipeline. That is called renovating the outhouse when indoor plumbing is the answer.

I picture Sheriff Jason Kenney’s posse, spurs ajingle and six guns flapping on their chaps, saddling up and galloping off to their war room at my imagery.

They do that now when they hear any “radical environmentalist” rearing his pesky head as opposed to those petrol Pollyannas of the energy sector who, as everyone knows, are full of philanthropy, mercenary science, and boffo marketing. The guys who make profits and tailings ponds.

But even those with their heads buried in bitumen have to resolve the latest development in what’s left of their social conscience. The Liberals and the rest of parliament have declared that Canada is experiencing a climate emergency. (There was one notable dissenter — those permanent campers in Jurassic Park on all matters touching the environment, the Conservative Party of Canada. Emergency, what emergency?)

Yet on the same day the “emergency” is declared by everybody but the fossil heads, the government says yes to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. As Shakespeare observed in Macbeth “Such welcome and unwelcome things at once. ‘Tis hard to reconcile.”

It is worse than Will of the Words so brilliantly put it. What the Liberals have done — one thing all too real, the other PR cotton candy, cannot be reconciled.

There comes a point when resource development and protection of the environment become implacable antagonists, as Farley Mowat once predicted they would. Canada has reached that point, and if Justin Trudeau doesn’t get it, the world’s scientists and the United Nations have.

So has his former cabinet minister Jane Philpott.

Here is what the former President of Treasury Board and health minister tweeted about the government’s pipeline decision, and the phony gesture that accompanied it.

“In the face of a climate emergency, courage is not spending public funds on oil and gas expansion. It is calling for evidence-based national incentives for solar plants, rooftop solar, wind and wave energy generators, geothermal solutions and hydroelectric power.”

Eight questions for Justin Trudeau

So a few blunt questions for the PM, who continues to publicly peddle the dubious line that Canadians can have it both ways, while privately linking arms with the CEOs.

1. Since Canada is already on track to miss its emission targets set in Paris by 79 megatonnes (only Gambia and Morocco are on target), how do you justify greenlighting a project that will add 20 per cent to carbon emissions from the Alberta tar sands?

2. You once said that only communities could issue the social license for mega projects like this. So what do you say to the Squamish Nation, and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby who have not granted that social license?

3. If expanding Trans Mountain is such an economic winner, why did Kinder Morgan happily unload this project on the Canadian people? Where were the rugged captains of private industry when this “jewel” went up for sale?

4. You have said time after time that getting a pipeline to tidewater to ship this highest-cost, low-quality product to Asian markets was critical. Since Canadians now own Trans Mountain, can you reveal any contracts with Asian countries, including China, that back up that assertion?

5. You have publicly committed to saving endangered resident orcas, now down to 74, in the Salish Sea off the B.C. coast. How does increasing the tanker traffic seven-fold in that area support that goal, especially given the National Energy Board’s own assessment that the project would have “significant adverse effects” on the whales?

851px version of Orca.jpg
There’s no question that orca whales will be harmed by the Trans Mountain expansion. Photo via NOAA.

6. A foundational value you constantly espouse is evidence-based policy, as opposed to Stephen Harper’s practice of consulting his belly button. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world has just 11 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or the damage will be catastrophic and irreversible. How is expanding Trans Mountain, and continuing to develop more fossil fuels a policy based on science?

7. In announcing the Trans Mountain decision, you said that you would not have made it if you thought it would put the B.C. coast at risk. Part of your optimism is based on alleged improvements to oil spill responses, which you now call “world-class.” Where was that world-class response in Newfoundland last year, when 250,000 litres of oil spilled from Husky Energy’s SeaRose Platform? None of the pollutant was recovered.

8. The true stewards of the land, particularly in British Columbia, have been Indigenous Peoples. They have seen a little further down the planetary road than a business sector obsessed with profit. Do you think it is an accomplishment to try to lure them into your world of development and consumption beyond sustainable limits by offering to sell them Trans Mountain, lock, stock and barrel?

Ecological smoke and mirrors

It is time for voters to face a fact about the Trudeau Liberals, despite the early press clippings. Like the oil companies themselves, the Liberals have good commercials and the same intentions — business as usual. This is not the first time this federal government has talked environmentalism and practiced massive corporatism.

On the East Coast, the Trudeau government has approved exploratory offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Is that how you transition to sustainable energy?

It has also steadfastly refused to do an environmental assessment on Northern Pulp, a mill in Nova Scotia that wants to build a 10-kilometre pipe from its plant that would dump hastily treated toxic pollutants into the lobster and herring spawning grounds of the Northumberland Strait.

Ottawa recently announced $100,000,000 to clean up Northern Pulp’s last toxic mess at Boat Harbour near Pictou Landing, but is silent on their plan to turn the ocean into their new dumpsite.

And in New Brunswick, despite all the “proposals” to do better, the federal government is letting coal-fired generating plants away with environmental murder.

One such plant, Belledune, emits 838 tonnes of greenhouse gases for every gigawatt hour of electricity it produces. But it gets away scot-free on the first 800 tonnes. Although Ottawa plans to get tougher, reducing the exempt pollution to 650 metric tonnes, that change won’t happen until after the federal election, if it happens at all. For now, there are no final public regulations on this matter.

The Trudeau government also okayed the massive LNG Canada project in British Columbia, which the Pembina Institute reported would sink that province’s chance of meeting its greenhouse gas emission targets.

The B.C. government claims that the project will add 3.5 megatonnes of emissions per year. First phase. The David Suzuki Foundation notes that this single project, when fully up and running, could add 9.6 megatonnes of pollutants to B.C.’s total by 2050.

Making that even worse, the Foundation in partnership with St. Francis Xavier University has found that so-called “fugitive methane” from fracking that releases the gas is under-reported by government and industry by a factor of 2.5 times. In other words, the pollution is worse than they are telling you.

Refusing to learn from past moral failures

Twice in my lifetime I have witnessed resources tragedies. Both dealt with important items of commerce — asbestos in Quebec and the northern cod in Newfoundland.

In the case of asbestos, it was the foundation of an important industry. Quebec had the largest asbestos mine in the world and the industry was seen as untouchable.

In the latter case, the northern cod was the legendary fishery that fed millions worldwide and was fished consecutively for 400 years by scores of nations.

But asbestos-caused cancer, and northern cod inspired the cold-hearted greed of overfishing. When questions were raised about banning asbestos and closing the fishery, the forces of the status quo kicked in with a vengeance.

Jobs would be lost if asbestos was banned, and whole communities and a way of life would collapse in outport Newfoundland if the cod fishery was closed. And so the politicians dithered, and people died of cancer until asbestos was finally banned and the northern cod were fished out.

And now a resource that is choking the planet is being defended the way that asbestos and the cod fishery were.

And like Stephen Harper before him, who defended asbestos, and Brian Mulroney who refused to close the fishery until there were no fish, Justin Trudeau is now buying and building pipelines. And that more or less guarantees more oil and gas development.

You get the picture.  [Tyee]

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