First Nations leaders in British Columbia and their allies swiftly responded to the Trudeau government’s recent approval of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, reiterating their long-standing opposition to the “climate polluting” project.
Once completed, the $9.3 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMEP) will boost the flow of diluted bitumen from Edmonton, Alberta, to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia, from the current 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day. The project will increase tanker traffic to more than 400 tankers per year, from the current 60. The project will also expand the Westridge Marine Terminal to accommodate the inevitable increase in pipeline capacity and tanker traffic.
Will George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and spokesperson of the Protect the Inlet, a grassroots campaign dedicated to stopping the project, declared that “this pipeline will not be built”.
— Protect The Inlet (@protecttheinlet) June 18, 2019
A statement issued by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs echoed George’s point:
In spite of today’s federal cabinet approval of the controversial project, Indigenous leaders from across BC remain staunchly opposed to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) and have vowed that it will never get built…
The statement stated that the approval demonstrated “a lackadaisical and irresponsible approach to combating climate change and recognizing the human rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The initial reaction from Chief Leah George-Wilson of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation highlighted the federal government’s betrayal of its obligations and promises to First Nations.
“Unfortunately, this feels too familiar – Canada repeated many of the same mistakes from last time,” she said, adding that her nation’s legal team will “consider our legal options to ensure our rights are protected.”
At at the core of the work of the Council of Canadians, a leading social action organization mobilizing more than 60 chapters across the country, is social justice, environmental justice, and Indigenous rights.
“Despite approving the Trans Mountain expansion, again, this pipeline will not be built,” said Dylan Penner, Climate and Social Justice Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Our movement stopped the Northern Gateway pipeline. We stopped Energy East. We will stop this one too.”
Environmentalists and Indigenous rights activists partaking in the national conversation on Canada’s expanding fossil fuel projects in recent years have urged the government to halt these projects, keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewable energy alternatives, and end its $3.3 billion annual fossil fuel subsidies. They have repeatedly urged Canadian governments to respect Indigenous peoples’ rights.
Earlier this month, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said:
Building the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project would trespass on fundamental Indigenous rights in Canada, fuel the climate emergency fire and risk our coastal waters. One major spill could doom our Southern Resident killer whales and the salmon so many depend on.
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). In Call to Action 45, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) called on the Canadian government to implement UNDRIP and “repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius”. In early 2018, the House of Commons passed NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s private member’s Bill C-262, “An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with UNDRIP”.
Canada is part to the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by more than 195 countries so far. The Canadian government’s official website states that the agreement “also identifies the need to respect, promote and consider the rights of Indigenous peoples, local communities, human rights and gender equality when taking climate action.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the TMEP a day after the House of Commons had passed a non-binding resolution declaring climate change a national emergency. The project will have direct impact on Canada’s climate policy and obligations under the Paris Agreement, whose main ambition is to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius this century. To honour its obligations under the agreement, Canada must lower its national carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels before 2030.
“We also committed to build a real plan to protect our environment and fight climate change,” said Trudeau while announcing his government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. “We do not see these goals as irreconcilable. We see them as complementary.”
What the prime minister and his Liberal government have chosen not to see, according to The Georgia Straight, “is that Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will lead to the the release of 71.4 megatonnes of downstream carbon dioxide equivalents, according to research conducted for the City of Vancouver. That exceeds the entire carbon dioxide emissions of the province of B.C. on an annual basis.”
Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental action organization, cast doubt on the prime minister’s claims. In a statement, the organization said:
By approving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the federal government has signed off on as much as an additional 15 million tonnes of carbon. This is irresponsible at a time when Canada is drifting further away from meeting our Paris climate commitment, and inconsistent with the climate emergency that was declared only yesterday. We have not seen any credible assessment of how this project, and the oil sands expansion it facilitates, can be accommodated while Canada meets its climate targets.
In its statement, the Council of Canadians accused the Trudeau government of “just pretending to care about climate change“. Labeling the TMEP a “climate-killing” project, the organization stated:
The Trans Mountain project could add 13 to 15 megatonnes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere, which would be like adding almost 3.8 million cars on the road. This will make it impossible for Canada to meet its climate targets, which are already far from the scale of emissions cuts that are needed.
According to Penner, the Council’s lead climate and social justice campaigner:
Approving a pipeline the day after declaring a climate emergency is like pulling the fire alarm and then throwing fuel on the fire. It’s not just irresponsible, hypocritical, and dishonest. It’s climate arson.
The charge of hypocrisy is supported by independent and government evidence.
In February, the National Energy Board (NEB), the federal energy regulator, admitted that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project’s inevitable “increase in tanker traffic resulting from the pipeline would hurt southern resident killer whales and increase greenhouse gas emissions.”
A scientific report (PDF) released by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) in April stated that Canada was warming “twice as fast as rest of the world”, adding that the effect was “effectively irreversible.” In a first ever report on climate risks to the country’s widely-regarded financial system, released in May, the Bank of Canada stated that climate change threatened “both the economy and the financial system”. The impact will be felt globally. The Economist Intelligence Unit recently stated that 2C in global warming could trigger global financial losses as high as US$4.2 trillion.
Reconciliation with First Nations
The TRC’s Call to Action 45 called on the federal government to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as “the framework for reconciliation”.
The Liberal Party’s 2015 federal election platform promised a renewal of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples based on re-engagement “in a renewed nation-to-nation process with Indigenous Peoples to make progress on the issues most important to First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit communities”. The document claimed that it was time “for Canada to have a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. This is both the right thing to do and a sure path to economic growth.” After winning the election, Prime Minister Trudeau made reconciliation with First Nations a priority.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project makes a mockery of the Trudeau government’s reconciliation project. Its approval is the clearest manifestation of a hypocrisy that has been there for all to see since the Liberals won the last election.
The government initially approved the project in November 2016 following the project’s questionable approval by the NEB. In May, 2018, the government bought the pipeline from the Texas-based Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.
In recent public statements and House of Commons debates around the TMEP, the Liberal government left no doubt that it would pursue giant fossil fuel projects that violate Indigenous people’s rights and sacred lands.
In May, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tabled his party’s climate motion in the House of Commons, calling on the government to nuke the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and immediately eliminate “all federal fossil fuel subsidies”:
That the House call on the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change to declare an environment and climate emergency following the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and urge the government to bring forward a climate action strategy that: (a) prioritizes reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; (b) invests in a transition that leaves no workers or communities behind; (c) increases the ambition of its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets to avoid a more than 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in global warming, as recommended by the IPCC report; (d) includes robust rules for implementing the Paris Agreement; (e) prescribes transparency and accountability mechanisms to address climate change; (f) does not proceed with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project; (g) immediately eliminates all federal fossil fuel subsidies, including through Export Development Canada funding; and (h) integrates human health into Canada’s climate commitments.
The Liberals and Conservatives teamed up and defeated the motion. Then the Liberals tabled their own climate motion:
That the House recognize that: (a) climate change is a real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity, that impacts the environment, biodiversity, Canadians’ health, and the Canadian economy; (b) Canadians are feeling the impacts of climate change today, from flooding, wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather events which are projected to intensify in the future; (c) climate change impacts communities across Canada, with coastal, northern and Indigenous communities particularly vulnerable to its effects; and (d) action to support clean growth and meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all parts of the economy are necessary to ensure a safer, healthier, cleaner and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren; and, therefore, that the House declare that Canada is in a national climate emergency which requires, as a response, that Canada commit to meeting its national emissions target under the Paris Agreement and to making deeper reductions in line with the Agreement’s objective of holding global warming below two degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The Indigenous scholar Jeff Corntassel once said, “Being indigenous today means struggling to reclaim and regenerate one’s relational place-based existence by challenging the ongoing destructive forces of colonization.” The Liberal government’s hypocritical climate motion and decision to approve the TMEP leave no doubt that Canada remains a colonial state that will deliberately ignore First Nations’ voices and rights in favour of destructive fossil fuel projects.
As the 2015 federal election approached, then 3rd-party opposition leader Trudeau claimed:
Governments might grant permits, but only communities can grant permission.
Really? In the past four years, scores of Indigenous communities, environmentalists, and the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver in B.C. vigorously opposed the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project. Trudeau approved it anywhere. Not only that.
The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that Saganash’s Bill C-262, which sought to ensure that Canada’s laws “are in harmony with UNDRIP,” is now “poised to die before the next election” after the Senate confirmed that “several high-profile bills introduced by individual MPs or senators are not going to make it to final votes before the summer break.” The Liberal Party came up with another hypocritical solution, an electioneering promise aimed at protecting the party’s 18 Members of Parliament in British Columbia. The party’s 2019 federal election platform will now include a pledge that UNDRIP “will be applied to Canadian law”.
First Nations groups challenged the government’s 2016 approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in the Federal Court of Appeal. In August 2018, the court quashed the approval in a anonymous decision. In its ruling, the court argued that the government had failed in its constitutional duty to “engage in a considered, meaningful two-way dialogue” with First Nations. Canada, the court stated, had “failed to fulfill the duty to consult owed to Indigenous peoples.” The court also found fault with the NEB’s “process and findings”, describing them as “so flawed that the Governor in Council could not reasonably rely on the Board’s report”.
After purchasing the TMEP, the Trudeau government relaunched another round of consultations with First Nations groups. According to the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation’s Chief Leah George-Wilson:
Tsleil-Waututh again engaged in consultation in good faith, but it was clear that the federal government had already made up their mind as the owners of the project.
In its February ruling, the NEB claimed that the TMEP was in the “Canadian public interest” while admitting that it would hurt killer whales and the environment. As reported by CBC News:
The cabinet has affirmed the National Energy Board’s conclusion that, while the pipeline has the potential to damage the environment and marine life, it’s in the national interest and could contribute tens of billions of dollars to government coffers and create and sustain thousands of jobs.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation recently commissioned Thomas Gunton and Chris Joseph of the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University to conduct a public interest evaluation of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. The academics’ report (PDF), released earlier this month, stated that “the net costs of the TMEP could range bet ween $8.2 and $18.7 billion and there is no likely scenario under which the TMEP would generate a net benefit for Canada.” The report also stated that the NEB’s conclusion that the pipeline would be in Canada’s public interest was “based on flawed analysis inconsistent with accepted best practices in project evaluation and Canadian evaluation guidelines.”
At a press conference convened Tuesday in Vancouver, Chief Leah George-Wilson confirmed that the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and its allies would challenge the government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in the courts again.
“We will be appealing this decision to the Federal Court of Appeal,” she said. “Tsleil-Waututh Nation continues to withhold our free, prior and informed consent, and are prepared to use all legal tools to ensure our government’s rights are respected.”
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian Progressive, Zimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad