Pipeline politics

One pipeline is too many: It’s time for a united east-west opposition

Stopping Energy East doesn’t help climate action if it just leads to B.C.’s loss on Kinder Morgan
Photo: Brian Cantoni

The activist offensive against Energy East has quickly become the most successful climate campaign in the country. The coordinated and creative activism happening in Manitoba, Ontario, the Maritimes, and especially Quebec is blowing the rest of the country’s (and the world’s) mind, and providing TransCanada and the corrupt National Energy Board with a formidable opponent.

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Recent reports in Bloomberg Business confirm what climate insiders have been hearing for months: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is obsessed with delivering a pipeline during his first term. He doesn’t care what pipeline it is, as long as he gets one.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is obsessed with delivering a pipeline during his first term.

So for those of us trying to stop Canada’s other giant tar sands pipeline — where Kinder Morgan would expand tanker traffic sevenfold in Vancouver’s harbour and B.C.’s South Coast — your strength in the east looks likely to lead to our loss in the west, unless we can quickly change the political dynamics.

TransCanada pokes Quebec in the eye

I’ve been a senior advisor on the campaign to stop the unchecked expansion of the tar sands for almost five years. When the massive Energy East project first reared its head we were already knee-deep in alligators. Between Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, and Kinder Morgan, not to mention the profound problems at the centre of the world’s biggest industrial project in northern Alberta, I can’t say we were excited to have yet another pipeline to fight.

Then something amazing happened. In only a few short years, TransCanada, a massive Alberta-based company that you’d think would have learned a few tricks after getting its ass kicked on Keystone XL, managed to passionately and permanently piss off and unify la belle province. If there were a playbook on how a remote, English, colonial-minded company could screw up branding, messaging, and relationships, TransCanada’s leaders studied it hard.

They are done in Quebec, and they know it.

Kinder Morgan: the thinking person’s pipeline

It doesn’t take a mathematician to calculate that an activated and unified Quebec, with its 78 seats in Parliament, is a lot more painful to betray than a B.C. population tired of the endless pipeline wars, with only 22 ridings that would be directly affected by this project.

Kinder Morgan has always been the “thinking person’s pipeline,” if you ignore complicated issues like the climate crisis, Indigenous rights, and uncleanable spills. To the Toronto-based business press, it’s the most reasonable one to just get done.

“It’s just a twinning” (it’s actually a tripling, leading to seven times more tankers on the coast). “It’s operated for 50 years without incident” (I guess we aren’t counting the 1.5 million litres spilled in the last 20 years). “We’ve got to help our friends in Alberta” (never mind that oil prices, Alberta’s distance from markets in Asia, and impending climate agreements like Paris will most likely make it a half-empty pipeline).

Why Trudeau will approve Kinder Morgan

The powers that be in Victoria, Edmonton, and Ottawa have reportedly been coordinating in secret, planning for an approval for months now. Here’s how their narrative towards approval on Dec. 19 of this year is going down.

When Trudeau was running for the big job, he promised to redo all pipeline approval processes. We have him on tape on that one.

91 per cent of presenters were opposed overall, and 100 per cent of presenters in Burnaby, North Vancouver, Vancouver and Victoria opposed the pipeline.

But this spring the government instead announced a “supplementary review process,” where three people with absolutely no power (one of whom had worked with Kinder Morgan and is a registered LNG lobbyist) hosted a series of informal town halls to listen to citizens who were actively shut out of the previous National Energy Board review. Although the meetings were poorly organized by the government, with next to no promotion or advertising, British Columbians packed every meeting and clearly told the panel they were against the pipeline, with 91 per cent of presenters opposed overall, and 100 per cent of presenters in Burnaby, North Vancouver, Vancouver and Victoria opposed.

Yet in the middle of the process, review panel member Kim Baird wrote an op-ed for the Globe and Mail stating that the number one message she heard was “business impatience” with the slow approvals. That’s how easy it is to spin these things when no one is recording what people actually say.

To their credit, the feds are going to announce their promised B.C. North Coast tanker ban this fall, which should kill Northern Gateway, the world’s dumbest industrial project. Unfortunately, they are signalling that the ban is part of a “‘coastal strategy’ to protect the environment while using West Coast ports to fire up the national economy” and mention numerous times how large, important, and safe Vancouver’s port already is.

Industry considers world-class success to be recovery of 15 per cent of an oil spill.

While the company and feds work hard to buy off consult with First Nations along the route, they are working extra hard to improve their other largest weak spot: extremely likely, highly toxic, uncleanable spills. Two weeks ago a $200 million investment by Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (partly owned by Kinder Morgan) was announced for improving coastal B.C.’s spill response — but only if Kinder Morgan’s application is approved.

The plan sounds quite reasonable, as long as you ignore the science that tar sands sinks in oceanic conditions can’t be cleaned up with current technology, or that industry considers world-class success to be recovery of 15 per cent of an oil spill.

So what’s our plan to stop them before December?

A highly effective network of community and environmental groups, First Nations, municipalities, and some progressive business people with a radically different economic vision for our coast have been working to stop Kinder Morgan for years. We’ve built a great campaign and we’re down to the final innings. We expect an announcement Dec. 19.

Big Oil has the same presence in Ottawa as they did during the Harper era, so despite the cost, we will be bringing B.C. opposition voices to the seat of power with petition deliveries, citizen lobby visits, and some other tricks.

Many activists realized long ago the game was rigged and are preparing for an escalation of tactics.

Many activists realized long ago the game was rigged and are preparing for an escalation of tactics, à la 2014’s epic Burnaby Mountain arrests. I’ve heard at least one international NGO already has a list of 400 people willing to get arrested, and a public call hasn’t even gone out yet! If Trudeau wants to see another Clayoquot Sound on his watch, the stage is now well set.

We’ll continue to raise awareness in B.C. and try to strengthen the (extremely weak and neoliberal) spine of our premier on an “effective” spill response that actually works on bitumen in the ocean. You’ll also be hearing a lot about the South Coast’s last resident orca pod and how seven times more tankers in the Salish Sea will lead to their certain extinction.

We need a national front against pipelines

Anyone paying attention to how fast the climate crisis is changing our world can tell that building essentially permanent massive new fossil fuel infrastructure, 30 years after you were supposed to start cutting emissions, is the opposite of taking action on global warming. July and August were the hottest months on record, ever. Is that not enough to force the hand of a prime minister who has said privately he hopes climate will be his legacy issue? Does he really believe you cut emissions by building pipelines?

We have one final hope: that activists in Quebec and Ontario pivot quickly to the Kinder Morgan fight, recognizing that stopping Energy East isn’t a net benefit for real climate action if it leads to B.C.’s loss on Kinder Morgan.

Let's save B.C.’s coast from becoming a sacrifice zone for Big Oil’s insatiable appetite for growth.

What will change the political calculus in Ottawa is for Canadians to unite behind a First Nations–led, national resistance movement that says no pipelines after Paris, period. Not in anyone’s backyard.

If Trudeau and his principal secretary Gerry Butts start to see that this decision will damage them not only in B.C. but nationally with climate-oriented voters (especially passionately activated ones in Quebec), it might just change their political calculus. And save B.C.’s coast from becoming a sacrifice zone for Big Oil’s insatiable appetite for growth.

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