Reality Check: For first time in nearly 2 years support for TMX below majority, once Canadians learn of rising costs

$12.6 billion price tag causes support to drop from 55 per cent to 48 per cent nationally

February 19, 2020 – On February 7 TransMountain President and CEO Ian Anderson announced that the company’s beleaguered pipeline expansion project between Burnaby and Edmonton would now carry an estimated cost of $12.6 billion, a considerable jump from the $7.4 billion initially estimated by the federal government, or the $5.4 billion estimated by previous owner Kinder Morgan.

A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that when Canadians learn of the new associated costs, their support for the project drops.

When first asked, 55 per cent support the TMX expansion, a number identical to support found last month. However, after then being informed of the increase in operational costs associated with it, and the increased taxpayer burden, support drops to 48 per cent, and opposition rises a corresponding seven points. Canadians are now close to equally divided (48% support vs 45% oppose).

This represents a two-year low point in support for the project, which stood at 49 per cent in February 2018. Opposition has increased 12-points over that same period.

Key regional elements emerge from this new data. The first is that British Columbians are now more opposed to the project than they are in support of it for the first time in five years. Further, six-in-ten Quebec residents (61%) and half of Ontario residents (47%) now oppose the project, both at their highest levels since the beginning of 2018.

More Key Findings:

  • The new cost estimate does little to sway public opinion in Alberta. Support drops marginally, from 88 per cent to 85 per cent in that province.
  • Younger Canadians, ages 18 to 34, lean toward opposition to the TMX after learning of the cost change. Those 35 to 54 years of age are divided, while older Canadians (55+) still offer majority support

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Pipeline approval record reveals conflict with Wet’suwet’en years in the making

Documents from B.C. approval process reveal fraught battle behind conflict roiling the country

Na’Moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, is one of the hereditary chiefs with the Wet’suwet’en Nation who have made clear their objections to the Coastal GasLink pipeline from the start of the project. (Dan Mesec)

A battle between the hereditary chiefs of a B.C. First Nation and a company planning to build a natural gas pipeline through their territory in the northwest of the province has exploded into the Canadian consciousness with cross-country protests.

Rail blockades that began earlier this month in opposition to the project have crippled the country’s transportation network, but the paper trail behind Coastal GasLink’s pipeline approval reveals a conflict years in the making.

The root of the current clash can be found in reasons given for an environmental assessment certificate issued by B.C.’s ministers of environment and natural gas development on Oct. 23, 2014.

The province acknowledged concerns from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and other Indigenous groups — and gave the green light to the project anyway.

The very next entry in the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) approval record is a Wet’suwet’en “title and rights” report that same year telegraphing the tensions that would block railroads and ports more than five years later.

It concludes that the chiefs can’t rely on the province, the EAO or the company behind the project — TransCanada — and its technology “to somehow protect our aboriginal title.”

And they draw on a string of broken promises from the time “the first white settler fenced” their lands to the establishment of B.C.’s biggest silver mine in Wet’suwet’en territory and onward.

“The promises have continued, but the devastation of our lands and resources have continued without any long lasting protection and agreement with the Crown,” the report said.

‘Issues, concerns and interests’

The EAO record of the Coastal GasLink project contains thousands of pages of documents filed in relation to the proposal to build the 650 km natural gas pipeline from the community of Groundbirch, 40 km west of Dawson Creek, to LNG Canada’s liquefied natural gas export facility near Kitimat.

The company’s initial project description was filed in October 2012.

Supporters in Regina voice their solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, whose opposition to the natural gas pipeline has drawn protest across the country. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

 

It promised to “build and maintain positive long-term relationships” with potentially affected Indigenous groups, ensure that “input and concerns are gathered, understood and integrated” and to “ensure that concerns and issues with respect to environmental or socio-economic effects … are addressed, as appropriate.”

Although the project ultimately gained the support of 20 elected band councils along the route, the office of the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs has never wavered in its objections.

The first Aboriginal Consultation report, filed in May 2013, details 31 categories of “issues, concerns and interests” ranging from the potential for adverse effects on fisheries, wildlife and water and air quality to concerns about fracking, caribou, medicinal plants and confidentiality around the sharing of traditional knowledge.

‘Lack of capacity, funding and expertise’

Notes filed from a regional meeting held in Prince George in November 2013 give a sense of the challenges facing all First Nations when it comes to environmental assessments and the multitude of companies like TransCanada looking to satisfy requirements for projects.

“There is a lack of capacity, funding and expertise in First Nations to meet what is required,” reads one comment.

“We are inundated by requests: letters, meetings, funding proposals. How do we engage to meet these timelines? We don’t want to miss the opportunity to intervene and disagree.”

This picture, filed as part of a Wet’suwet’en rights and title report, dates back to the 1890s and the construction of a stone trap to harvest salmon in Wet’suwet’en territory. (Office of the Wet’suwet’en)

 

Representatives from a dozen First Nations attended that meeting, including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation — a Burns Lake-area band of around 300 people that is a different entity from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. One of the questions was whether the meeting itself was considered consultation.

“There are different levels of consultation,” was the response.

“The courts have found that government does not clarify process very well, so this session is designed to clarify and to hear concerns and have a follow up. This is part of the consultation process, but it is too narrow to be enough to fulfil our entire duty to consult.”

‘Life and death’ for Wet’suwet’en

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en sent EAO manager Brian Westgate a letter in April 2014, six months before the office gave a green light to the pipeline.

At that time, Wet’suwet’en environmental co-ordinator Mike Ridsdale wrote that they considered the pipeline application “incomplete.”

A First Nations protester stands in front of a transport in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

 

“It does not contain sufficient information specific to Wet’suwet’en cultural needs, and it does not consider the specific impacts to Wet’suwet’en territories, which also impacts Wet’suwet’en rights,” Ridsdale wrote.

“The potential for significant adverse impacts upon the Wet’suwet’en environment, culture and constitutionally protected rights is real.”

The EAO responded, citing spreadsheets of data collected to allay the fears of the hereditary chiefs.

But three weeks before the province gave the project ministerial approval, Ridsdale wrote again, complaining that the company’s data lacked “complexity, value and significance” to speak to issues that were “life and death” for the Wet’suwet’en.

Ridsdale claimed the “lack of information” was “an injustice to the Wet’suwet’en people” saying that the significance and magnitude of the pipeline’s potential effects couldn’t be determined because of the weakness of the information.

“How can the Wet’suwet’en have any assurance of the protection of our values, when the supplied ‘conditions’ do not acknowledge Wet’suwet’en title, rights and associated interests of our territories?” he asked.

Obligations ‘fulfilled’

The assessment moved ahead regardless — and five days later the EAO gave the pipeline its recommendation.

That document concludes with a section “weighing impacts on Aboriginal interests with other interests.”

It said natural gas projects “have the potential to bring tens of billions of dollars in investment to British Columbia between 2014 and 2022.”

The EAO conceded that “traditional subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, gathering and trapping may be altered,” but said the potential for adverse effect on the Aboriginal rights “has been avoided, minimized or otherwise accommodated to an acceptable level.”

And so they concluded that the provincial Crown “had fulfilled its obligations for consultation.” SOURCE

Digging Inro Oil Sands Divestment

The Canada Letter speaks with a Times reporter who has looked into large investors who have turned away from the oil sands.

Another energy story was somewhat lost this week among turmoil from protests over the natural gas pipeline construction in Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. On Wednesday, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, announced one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would no longer put money into companies that get revenue from the oil sands in Alberta.

The Syncrude Canada plant north of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Credit…Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

 

My colleague Christopher Flavelle, who follows how people, governments and industries are coping with the effects of global warming, reported on the decision as part of his in-depth look at investors who are divesting oil sands-related holdings.

[Read: Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel.]

Christopher, by the way, was born and raised in Toronto, obtained a B.A. in political science at McGill University and once worked at The Walrus magazine.

I asked him to expand on some of the points from his article in which the head of a fund at BlackRock describes the oils sands as being “the worst offenders, if you want, from a climate perspective.”

Some of the investors you spoke with said that they are taking their money out of the oil sands for environmental reasons. But is the current oil glut and the prospect of continued low oil prices also influencing their decisions?

I spoke with equity analysts, economists and fund managers for this story, and they all made a version of that point: The recent low rate of return on oil has made it easier for investors to pull out of the oil sands, because it means they’re not sacrificing a lucrative investment. That’s especially true for the oil sands, which have been hurt by the lack of new pipelines that would make it cheaper to get more of that oil to market.

Other people took that argument a step further, predicting that when, or if, oil in general and the oil sands in particular become a more attractive investment, some of the investors who left will come back. And that seems like a valid point: One test of these divestment policies will be whether investors stick to them over time.

Alberta has responded by attempting to embarrass some financial services companies for pulling out of the oil sands and by threatening to no longer do business with them. Has anybody noticed any of that effort outside Alberta or Canada?

The investors and insurance companies that have been the targets of that pressure have certainly noticed. But I couldn’t find evidence that the pressure from Alberta has caused any of those companies to change their policies.

The closest might be HSBC, which seemed to get more attention from Premier Jason Kenney than any other company. HSBC softened the language in its policy statement on the oil sands last year, its spokeswoman told me, removing what she called “the suggestion that our exposure to the oil sands industry would diminish.” But it didn’t shift its pledge to stop funding new oil sands projects.

The bigger question that came up during my reporting is whether lenders that might otherwise want to invest in oil sands projects will decide not to as a result of the Alberta government’s willingness to publicly criticize foreign investors it disagrees with. That’s a much harder question to answer.

Have some oil sands companies made significant progress on reducing carbon emissions, as Alberta’s government has said?

It depends how you define ‘significant.’ Joule Bergerson, a professor in the chemical and petroleum engineering department at the University of Calgary, told me that she’s seen reductions in carbon intensity — the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit of energy extracted — in the range of 15 percent to 20 percent.

The companies themselves report having made significant reductions. Cenovus told me in a statement that its greenhouse gas intensity had fallen 30 percent in 15 years. Suncor said in a statement that emissions intensity at its oil sands base plant was down more than 60 percent since 1990.

But Dr. Bergerson added that reductions on the scale we’ve seen so far aren’t necessarily going to change investors’ minds about quitting the oil sands because they still leave most of those projects well above the global average for carbon intensity. As she put it, those companies “are really trying, and putting their money where their mouth is in terms of developing new technologies.” Still, she said, it remains unclear whether they’ll be able to cut emissions enough to persuade other investors not to leave.

How willing were people in the industry and the Canadian financial community to speak with you?

I was surprised by how difficult it was to get Canadian investors and oil sands companies to talk to me. Aside from the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, none of the large pension funds agreed to my requests for interviews. The biggest oil sands companies likewise declined my requests for interviews, though some agreed to respond to written questions.

When I mentioned that to the people I spoke with, many of whom asked not to be identified, the explanation was that nobody wants to be the next one to get targeted by the premier’s office. I would have asked Mr. Kenney about that, but his office declined my request for an interview. SOURCE

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OPINION | What’s really holding back the oilsands? It’s not the bill of goods you’re being sold

Oil and Gas May Be a Far Bigger Climate Threat Than We Knew

Credit…Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Oil and gas production may be responsible for a far larger share of the soaring levels of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, in the earth’s atmosphere than previously thought, new research has found.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, add urgency to efforts to rein in methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry, which routinely leaks or intentionally releases the gas into air.

“We’ve identified a gigantic discrepancy that shows the industry needs to, at the very least, improve their monitoring,” said Benjamin Hmiel, a researcher at the University of Rochester and the study’s lead author. “If these emissions are truly coming from oil, gas extraction, production use, the industry isn’t even reporting or seeing that right now.”

Atmospheric concentrations of methane have more than doubled from preindustrial times. A New York Times investigation into “super emitter” sites last year revealed vast quantities of methane being released from oil wells and other energy facilities instead of being captured.

The extent to which fossil fuel emissions, as opposed to natural sources, are responsible for the rising methane levels has long been a matter of scientific debate. Methane seeps from the ocean bed, for instance, and also spews from land formations called mud volcanoes.

Credit…Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

To shed light on the mystery, researchers at Rochester’s Department of Earth and Environmental Studies examined ice cores from Greenland, as well as data from Antarctica stretching back to about 1750, before the industrial revolution.

They found that methane emissions from natural phenomena were far smaller than estimates used to calculate global emissions. That means fossil-fuel emissions from human activity — namely the production and burning of fossil fuels — were underestimated by 25 to 40 percent, the researchers said.

The scientists were helped in their analysis by different isotopes found in methane emissions from natural sources, compared to emissions from the production of fossil fuels. Isotopes are versions of an element that have very slight differences, allowing the researchers to differentiate between them.

They used a melting chamber with a set of high-power burners to melt more than 2,000 pounds of ice cores to extract and examine air samples from the past. “It looked like a little rocket ship,” said Vasilii Petrenko, a co-author of the Nature study and an associate professor at Rochester. “Think of a rocket engine, but except the flames pointing at the device.”

Robert Howarth, an earth system scientist at Cornell University who was not involved with the research, called it “a very important study.” He said it was consistent with recent research, like a study he published last year that estimated that North American gas production was responsible for about a third of the global increase in methane emissions over the past decade.

“Emissions from fossil sources are correspondingly larger than many have been estimating,” Dr. Howarth said. “I find it very convincing.

A device used to extract ice cores, which were melted and studied by the researchers. 
Credit…Benjamin Hmiel

Daniel J. Jacob, professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University, also described the findings as significant. Current estimates of methane from geological sources “were widely considered too high by atmospheric modelers such as myself,” he wrote in an email.

But he took issue with the suggestion that emissions from fossil fuel production were larger than previously estimated. Fossil fuel emissions are “based on fuel production rates, number of facilities, and direct measurements if available. The natural geological source is irrelevant for these estimates,” he said.

The disagreement reflects an overall discrepancy between what are called “bottom-up” measurements of emissions, those from individual oil and gas sites, as opposed to “top-down” calculations like the ones carried out by the Rochester researchers. “Bottom-up” measurements can be unreliable because of a lack of data from individual oil and gas sites. With “top-down” measurements, on the other hand, the exact source of

The findings come as oil and gas companies face increased pressure to rein in greenhouse gas emissions from their operations to address rising concerns about climate change.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is of particular concern, because it can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. On top of fossil fuel production, livestock, landfills and other sources linked to human activity also emit methane.

Last week, the British oil giant BP set an ambitious climate change goal, saying it aimed to eliminate or offset by 2050 all planet-warming emissions from its oil and gas production, as well as emissions caused by the burning of the oil and gas it pumps from the ground. The company provided few details on how it would achieve that feat, however.

Adding to climate concerns, the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that effectively eliminates requirements that oil companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from oil and gas facilities. By the Environmental Protection Agency’s own calculations, the rollback would increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons through 2025, enough to power more than a million homes for a year.

Dr. Petrenko, one of the Rochester study’s authors, said that the huge undertaking of studying giant ice cores meant the study relied on a small sampling of data. “These measurements are incredibly difficult. So getting more data to help confirm our results would be very valuable,” he said. “That means there’s quite a bit more research to be done.” SOURCE

Saving the planet means listening to Indigenous peoples: Wade Davis

‘We in the West, with our way of thinking of the natural world, we are not the norm — we’re the anomaly.’

Why does ancient wisdom matter in the modern world? ‘I answer that with two words: climate change,’ says the Canadian explorer and anthropologist, Wade Davis. (Adam Dillon)

The Canadian anthropologist, Wade Davishas spent a lifetime learning from the Indigenous peoples of the world, and their relationship with the planet we all share.

For him, the big question is whether we can learn from these “wayfinders” as he called them in his 2009 CBC Massey lectures. He believes that the future of humanity — and its present — depends on listening to Indigenous peoples: to what they know of the world, to what they have to teach us; and how they can help our species both survive, and thrive.

In his lectures, Davis described the myriad cultures on our planet as the “ethnosphere”, by which he means the “sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination.”

Now, 10 years after he delivered his Massey lectures, the University of British Columbia professor looks back on what has changed on our planet — for better and for worse.

The following is an excerpt of his conversation at the Stratford Festival with psychiatrist David Godbloom.

You spoke in 2009 of the ethnosphere as humanity’s greatest legacy. Tell us firstly what you meant by the ethnosphere and what’s happened?

Well, what I was trying to do is create an organizing principle that would draw people’s attention to what was going on to the diversity of culture brought into being by the human imagination. And, you know, we hear so much about the erosion of biological diversity but even the most discouraged biologists would never suggest that 50 per cent of all animal and plant life is moribund, and yet that the most apocalyptic scenario in the realm of biological diversity scarcely approaches what we know to be the most optimistic scenario in the realm of cultural diversity.

And the key indicator of that of course is language loss. I mean the fact that when all of us were born there were 7,000 languages spoken on the planet, and by absolute academic consensus half of those aren’t being whispered today into the ears of infants, which means we’re literally living through an era in which by definition half of humanity’s intellectual, social, ecological, spiritual knowledge is at risk. And that doesn’t have to happen.

Frank Boas (L) was called the ‘Father of American Anthropology’. His work is associated with the movements known as Historical Particularism and Cultural Relativism. Ruth Benedict (R) was an American anthropologist and folklorist. In 1921, she studied under Boas at Columbia University. (Wikipedia)

 

I mean this tied really strongly into my conviction that the same forces that were affecting biological diversity were, of course, affecting cultural diversity. And I’m an anthropologist and the real purpose of anthropology is — as Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas’ great student, said — is to make the world safe for human differences.

Anthropology is the antidote to nativism. It’s the antidote to Trump. You know, the real central lesson of anthropology is that every culture has something to say. Each deserves to be heard just as none has a monopoly on the route to the divine. The other peoples of the world are not failed attempts at being new, they’re not failed attempts at being modern.

Every culture has a unique answer to a fundamental question: what does it mean to be human and alive? And when the people of the world answer that question they do so in those 7,000 different voices of humanity. And those voices and those answers collectively become our human repertoire for dealing with the challenges we’ll confront in the coming centuries.

When we were backstage, we were talking about the fact that the country you’ve just left (Colombia) that you’ve recently become a citizen of has gone through its own extraordinary transformation. Can you talk about your first time in Colombia, I think 45 years ago?

We had a teacher who had an air of a dandy, trailed clouds of cologne. But all of that was betrayed by a glass eye and a scarred face that marked the body blown apart in the war. He took six boys to Colombia one summer and my mother worked as a secretary in elementary school all year to afford for me to join that trip. I was 14 and by far the youngest of the group.

And by complete good fortune, whereas the other lads were billeted with very affluent families and spent most of the sweltering summer in the country clubs of Cali, I was with a family high up in the mountains on the trails that ran west of the Pacific. I never saw the Canadians all summer.

In Wade Davis: Photographs, Davis selected 150 of his favourite photographs from the thousands he has taken in the course of his 40-year career. Here are a few of those images:

Ipeelie Koonoo scans the sea for narwhal and belugas at Cape Crawford, Baffin Island.
  • Ipeelie Koonoo scans the sea for narwhal and belugas at Cape Crawford, Baffin Island. (Wade Davis: Photographs, published by Douglas & McIntyre)

It was kind of a classic Colombian scene, multitudes of children, indulgent fathers, grandmothers who mutter to themselves on porches overlooking fruit trees and flower gardens. In eight weeks I encountered the decency and strangeness of a people charged with a kind of strange intensity and an incredible compassion for the fragility of life.

And whereas many of the other Canadian boys I later discovered had gotten terrible — what the Colombians called ‘mamitis,’ which is homesickness — I felt like I had finally found home. And I never wanted to come back.

You’ve chronicled the threatened extinction of languages around the world as a kind of marker for peril in the ethnosphere. Has the turnaround in Colombia had an impact on the preservation or even the growth of multiple Indigenous languages?

One of the things that is so important for us to recognize is that there was always this sense in 19th century anthropology that there was a sort of hierarchy of culture measured by technology. It was inspired by Darwin, if species evolve, surely societies evolve and we could find some grand scheme of cultures that went from the savage to the barbarian, to the civilized, to the Strand of London.

The Wayfinders is published by House of Anansi Press.

 

Anthropologists went out to test that and found it to be absolutely ridiculous because there were no grounds whatsoever to determine anybody as primitive. Franz Boas, the Father of North American Anthropology, was a real person who led that and went to live with the Inuit. He got caught out in a blizzard and he realized that without their genius he would die. And then he went off to the northwest coast, to British Columbia and saw that you didn’t need agriculture to create high civilization.

We in the West, with our way of thinking of the natural world, we are not the norm — we’re the anomaly. Most societies around the planet have these extraordinarily rich relationships where they never see people as part of the problem, but part of the essential solution — because it’s only people that can maintain the cosmic balance of the world.

Anthropology never calls for the preservation of anything. And when people often ask why did these other cultures matter, or why does ancient wisdom matter in the modern world? I answer that with two words: climate change.

Not to suggest we go back to pre-industrial past, but the very existence of these other alternatives, these other visions of life, so rich in their complexity put the lie to those of us in our own society who say that we cannot change, as we know we all must change the fundamental way we treat the planet.

And so I draw great inspiration from the diversity of ideas that we’ve come up with across a whole range of the human spirit. SOURCE

Stop work on Coastal GasLink to allow meaningful dialogue on B.C. pipeline project, says Indigenous leader

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say they will not meet unless the company and RCMP leave their territory

Native leaders are requesting work on the pipeline near Houston, B.C., stop for three to six months, so government leaders and hereditary chiefs can come to the table and have meaningful dialogue. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

A B.C. Indigenous leader says the prime minister needs to immediately come to the table with Indigenous leaders who oppose the construction of a pipeline in northern B.C. and the project should be halted while conversations take place.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is opposed by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, has mobilized both Indigenous and non-Indigenous protesters across the country to blockade ports, railways and roads in solidarity.

“People are at the end of their rope,” said Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Wednesday on The Early Edition.

“The government hasn’t bothered to take First Nations very seriously on these issues. People across the country are acting out on this,” she added.

Sayers said the situation has become a national crisis and it is critical that Ottawa and Indigenous leaders come together now.

She suggested a three to six month moratorium on pipeline construction while conversations take place.

A Wet’suwet’en supporter blocks an intersection in Vancouver on Feb. 10. (CBC/Maggie MacPherson)

 

In the House of Commons Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Canadians to be patient with his government.

“Finding a solution will not be simple. It will take determination, hard work and co-operation,” Trudeau said. “We are creating a space for peaceful honest dialogue with willing partners … We need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right.”

Sayers said the prime minister’s words are not enough.

“He could take time out of his busy schedule to begin the conversations,” she said. “He’s making space, but there is not a lot more of a commitment than that.”

A battle between the hereditary chiefs of a B.C. First Nation and a company planning to build a natural gas pipeline has mobilized people across the country to show their support for the chiefs by blocking ports, railways and city intersections. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

 

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh said he does not support stopping work on the pipeline.

“It establishes a precedent that you can bring the whole country to its knees and then have a moratorium. I think that’s a problem for a civilized society.” said Dosanjh.

He said if a moratorium is put on the project it could encourage other groups to erect blockades over future issues that do not concern First Nations.

“Forget these issues, imagine other issues,” said Dosanjh. “If other Canadians begin to do the same thing, are we going to accept it?”

On Wednesday, Trudeau reiterated to reporters on Parliament Hill his government is working hard to resolve the Indigenous blockades that have led to hundreds of layoffs at CN Rail. The prime minister has said his government is committed to using dialogue instead of force.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have said they will not meet with Ottawa or Victoria unless the RCMP and Coastal GasLink leave their territory. SOURCE

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Send in the army? Why one expert says that would be a ‘ludicrous’ response to rail blockades

‘Some of the officers would quit before they did that’ – Douglas Bland

Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs perform a round dance at a blockade at a CN Rail line just west of Edmonton, Alta, February 19, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Over seven years ago, two books written by retired lieutenant-colonel Douglas Bland offered some sobering warnings about the future of the Crown-Indigenous relationship — warnings that seem eerily prescient after the events of the past two weeks.

One book, Uprising, was a work of fiction — a well-researched tale of insurrection among impoverished young Aboriginal people rallying to a call to “take back the land.”

The second book (non-fiction) was more chilling. In factual, stripped-down prose, Bland chronicled how Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations were on a catastrophic collision course — a reckoning long in the making that would lead to social upheaval.

That book, Time Bomb: Canada and the First Nations, described how the peaceful Idle No More movement had the potential to morph into something far more menacing — something that could exploit the country’s vulnerability to blockades by barricading the east-west freight routes that stitch the nation together.

Canada’s transportation network was at the time — and remains today — an easy target for aspiring insurgents and activists.

They know if they decided to block down railways for a long time, or if they use weapons of any kind, in any strength, that the army and the Mounties and everybody would be down their throats.– Author Douglas Bland

Although Bland has deep respect for Indigenous culture and aspirations, in his books the former chair of defence management studies at Queen University examines a looming crisis through the lens of the military and national security.

The Liberal government has insisted that the recent blockades — which have paralyzed rail traffic across the country, leading to layoffs and industrial slowdowns — can only be resolved through patient and peaceful dialogue.

That argument is wearing thin with the government’s opponents. Aspiring Conservative leadership candidate Marilyn Gladu said the military should be sent in to break up the blockades “if the RCMP can’t handle it.”

A ‘last resort’

Derek Burney, who was chief of staff to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, declared in a recent National Post article that “enough is enough” and the current government should “empower all federal law enforcement agencies, and if necessary the military, to uphold the rule of law.”

Calls to send in the army, particularly at this stage, are “ludicrous,” said Bland, who added he believes that kind of solution is “way beyond anything we need to do now, or in the future.”

The military is — and should be — the federal response “of last resort,” he said.

The army’s mission is to fight foreign enemies and terrorists, not Canada’s own citizens. Treating the blockades like a full-blown insurrection would not only be perilous, said Bland — it would ignore the real nature of the Crown-Indigenous relationship.

“There is nothing so dangerous that you have to send (the army) in,” he said.

Seven years ago, Bland said, he would have estimated the probability of an actual Indigenous uprising much higher than he does today — simply because governments have finally acknowledged Indigenous Canadians’ real grievances and have made attempts, however imperfect, at reconciliation.

An overwhelming number of First Nations leaders and their people appear to be behind the federal government in its push for a negotiated end to the current crisis. A military response, Bland said, would destroy that goodwill while setting back the growing rapprochement with Aboriginal communities.

Political aims, political options

The aim of the current wave of protests is political, said Bland, and it’s not likely the activists want (or are prepared) to escalate the confrontation into an armed conflict.

“They know if they decided to block down railways for a long time, or if they use weapons of any kind, in any strength, that the army and the Mounties and everybody would be down their throats,” he said.

“They’re not interested in getting into a war with Canada. What they want to do, like a lot of other people, is put enough pressure on the government so that the government recognizes their claims and demands.”

An unidentified Mohawk woman clutches her child in one arm and a soldier’s wrist in the other hand on Highway 344 during the 1990 Oka crisis. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

 

Joseph Norton, the grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said this week that it would be easy for the Crown to dispatch the military to “do its bidding.” But the people in his community lived through the Oka Crisis in 1990, which didn’t end until after a police officer was killed.

“Nobody wants to see that again,” said Norton.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller recently raised the spectre of that two-and-a-month standoff near Montreal. Thirty years ago, Miller told the House of Commons, he was a young army reservist serving alongside “four Mohawk brothers.” When the unit was ordered to Oka, the four Mohawk brothers left their unit.

“They were asked to make a difficult choice … between the country that they would lay down their life for and their families. For them, the choice was clear,” Miller said

Like Miller, many of the current crop of Canadian military leaders were junior officers at the time of Oka and remember what a divisive, dangerous time it was. Bland said he would be shocked if a chief of the defence staff ordered soldiers into an Indigenous community to put down a protest.

“Some of the officers would quit before they did that.” SOURCE