The Trans Mountain pipeline will never be built. Acknowledging this reality should be the starting point any further discussion on the subject between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet. With last week’s Federal Court of Appeal decision leading to the immediate suspension of pipeline construction, Trudeau has been handed a singular opportunity to reverse course on his anti-environment agenda. He can finally get with the program that he campaigned on in 2015: to hold global warming to just two degrees C.
By purchasing Kinder Morgan’s leaky pipeline for $4.5 billion, Trudeau has mocked his own government’s Pan-Canadian Climate Change plan. The Trans Mountain pipeline has a single purpose – to allow the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. What has become clear is that the actions of Trudeau and his Liberal government are severely at odds with the commitments to the planet made by those same Liberals in Paris in 2015.
Trudeau and the Liberals also committed to getting serious about protecting endangered species, like B.C.’s southern resident killer whales. But it may take a court action filed by conservation groups this week to spur the Liberals into finally taking their legislated obligations seriously (see: “Lawsuit demands federal departments act to protect southern resident killer whales,” CBC News, September 5, 2018). The Federal Court of Appeal was explicit that the National Energy Board made a critical error in failing to assess the impacts of increased marine shipping on killer whale habitat. It was an error that could have been avoided had the NEB listened to conservation experts who raised this issue first back in 2014 (see: “Tories deny responsibility for 'critical' Trans Mountain mistake made under Stephen Harper's watch,” the National Observer, September 4, 2018).
Trudeau and the Liberals also committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but instead found itself unable to meet its existing constitutional obligations to consult and accommodate First Nations impacted by Trans Mountain. UNDRIP includes the principle of obtaining the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ of indigenous peoples where resource development projects are proposed, potentially a more robust obligation than consultation and accommodation (see: “Collaborative nation-to-nation decision-making is the way forward,” Martin Papillon, Policy Options, September 5, 2018).
Trudeau and the Liberals campaigned on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, calling Stephen Harper’s National Energy Board process inadequate. On the campaign trail, Trudeau vowed to change the rules for pipeline assessments so that upstream and downstream impacts would be included. In office, the Liberals mandated these new requirements, but allowed the Trans Mountain assessment to proceed without a more robust analysis of climate change impacts (see: “Trudeau’s plan to kill Energy East without getting caught,” the Financial Post, September 19, 2017).
Taken together, climate change, indigenous rights and endangered species leave no way forward for the Trans Mountain project. If Trudeau and the Liberals have the courage of their own convictions, they will acknowledge this reality, and seriously begin embarking on the overdue process of transitioning our economy off of fossil fuels – something a growing number of jurisdictions are already doing. California is about to join Hawaii on the road to carbon neutrality by 2045 (see: "California lawmakers pass bill to phase out fossil fuels by 2045," engadget, August 30, 2018). There is no reason we here in Canada should be continuing to argue about how to get a bitumen pipeline built.
Tar sands players are even extending Trudeau a helping hand. Suncor just announced that it won’t expand crude production, due to pipeline uncertainty. Decisions like this create opportunities for the governing Liberals to get serious about renewable energy, a sector of the economy that is significantly outperforming fossil energy job creation (see: “Renewable Energy Continues to Beat Fossil Fuels,” Time, February 8, 2017). Fact is, if we are going to hold global warming to just 2 degrees C, most of the oil locked in tar sands is going to have to stay in the ground anyway (see: “Most of Canada’s oilsands must stay in ground if world to limit global warming: report,” Global News, January 7, 2015).
There’s still plenty of time for the Liberals to convince voters that, despite their recent flirtations with a sunsetting fossil energy sector, that they really are serious about doing all of those good things they said they’d do in 2015 to fight climate change (see: “Why Ottawa should step away from Trans Mountain,” Sarah Mason-Case, Catherine Potvin, Catroiona Sandilands, Policy Options, August 29, 2018).
Let’s see if Trudeau and the Liberals will rise to the challenge.
(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 "May: Pipeline decision an opportunity for Liberals to go green"," in the Sudbury Star, September 8, 2018.
“Lawsuit demands federal departments act to protect southern resident killer whales,” CBC News, September 5, 2018. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/killer-whales-lawsuit-conservation-fisheries-environment-1.4811356
“Tories deny responsibility for 'critical' Trans Mountain mistake made under Stephen Harper's watch,” the National Observer, September 4, 2018. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/09/04/news/tories-deny-responsibility-critical-trans-mountain-mistake-made-under-stephen
“Collaborative nation-to-nation decision-making is the way forward,” Martin Papillon, Policy Options, September 5, 2018. http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/collaborative-nation-nation-decision-making-way-forward/
“Trudeau’s plan to kill Energy East without getting caught,” the Financial Post, September 19, 2017. https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/ted-morton-trudeaus-plan-to-kill-energy-east-without-getting-caught
“Renewable Energy Continues to Beat Fossil Fuels,” Time, February 8, 2017. http://time.com/4662116/renewable-energy-fossil-fuels-growth/
“Most of Canada’s oilsands must stay in ground if world to limit global warming: report,” Global News, January 7, 2015. https://globalnews.ca/news/1761096/most-of-canadas-oilsands-must-stay-in-ground-if-world-to-limit-global-warming-report/
“Why Ottawa should step away from Trans Mountain,” Sarah Mason-Case, Catherine Potvin, Catroiona Sandilands, Policy Options, August 29, 2018. http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/august-2018/why-ottawa-should-step-away-from-trans-mountain/