Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline will never be built. That might appear to be a bold statement, given the federal Liberal government’s recent commitment to pour taxpayer’s money into the project to keep it afloat. (see: "We are going to get the pipeline built': Trudeau begins federal talks with Kinder Morgan to guarantee Trans Mountain,” the National Post, April 15, 2018). Our Prime Minister has staked his political reputation on ramming this pipeline through a province, British Columbia, that just last year elected a government that, on the campaign trail, committed to doing everything in its power to stop the project.
B.C. Premier John Horgan is heading to court to determine whether his government can regulate the transport of diluted bitumen through the province. (see: "B.C. Is Taking the Kinder Morgan Question to Court. Here’s What you Need to Know.” Emma Gilchrist, DesmogCanada, April 18, 2018). Horgan’s concerns are environmental: oil spills from the pipeline on land, and along the pristine B.C. coast. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau claims that the pipeline falls wholly within the purview of the federal government (see: "Morneau shoots down Singh's high court proposal to end pipeline standoff,” CBC News, April 11, 2018), but constitutional experts like Jack Woodward have indicated that the feds can’t so easily ignore B.C.’s interests in protecting the natural environment, or the constitutional rights of indigenous peoples (see: "They’re Not Getting How the Constitution Works’: Why Trudeau, Notley Can’t Steamroll B.C. on Kinder Morgan Pipeline,” Emma Gilchrist, DesmogCanada, April 13, 2018).
Ultimately, it’s that math that just doesn’t add up over the longer term. The political calculus suggests the Liberals are going to have to come to terms with the policy contradiction that they’ve been foisting on Canadians: that we can lower our greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously allowing the tar sands to double in size. Experts have long known that Canada can’t do both. Increasingly, Canadians are becoming aware that Trudeau and the Liberals have been trying to pull a fast one on them. And it’s all coming to a head over Trans Mountain.
Will Trudeau continue to find his government entrenched on the side of the oil multinationals, supporting a fossil status quo that will ultimately be washed away by the tide of history? Pundits have claimed that Trudeau needs Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s support for his climate action plan. And Notley needs a pipeline. But with an election scheduled in Alberta in a little over a year, Notley is NDP seem likely to be swept away by the tides of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party. With Liberal seats at risk in Quebec, and climate-hostile governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and potentially in Ontario, might Trudeau opt to become the climate champion that he pretended to be on the campaign trail?
The economics of the Trans Mountain pipeline suggest he should. Demand for Canada’s heavy oil is already slumping, thanks to cheaper, easier-to-process oil from the United States (see: "Kinder Morgan is just bad economics getting worse,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, April 17, 2018). With nations like oil-exporting Norway passing laws to phase out internal combustion engines (see: "Norway to 'completely ban petrol powered cars by 2025", Independent, June 4, 2016), the world is poised to move forward with the electrification of our transport systems. And if we have any hope of meeting our Paris greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets, this global project is one that must be undertaken.
While Justin Trudeau wants to find a political compromise to save the pipeline, he can’t compromise with the atmosphere. At Paris, Canada committed to holding global warming to just two degrees Celsius. Doubling production of the tar sands puts us on a course where will blow through our 2030 emissions reduction target, just as we’ve blown through every other national target.
In the past, though, average Canadians and elected members of parliament weren’t getting arrested for opposing fossil fuel infrastructure projects (see: “B.C. MPs Elizabeth May, Kennedy Stewart arrested at Kinder Morgan facility,” Global News, March 26, 2018). Our growing global awareness of our moral obligations to future generations will need, at some point, to be reflected in the decisions of our political leaders (see: "We need to attack the morality of fossil fuel investment,” the Guardian, March 11, 2015). If the Liberals can’t adapt to this new environment, they too will be swept away by the tide of history.
As long as people – from indigenous and settler communities – are willing to stand up for the future, as they are doing now on Burnaby Mountain, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline will never be built.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)
Originally published as "Pipeline will never be built," the Sudbury Star, April 21, 2018 (in print and online).