A fortune lies in Canada’s oil sands. Many voters want to leave it there.

Robbie Picard, founder of Oil Sands Strong, sits for a photograph at a diner in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Sept. 24, 2019. Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Jason Franson. / The Washington Post
Robbie Picard, founder of Oil Sands Strong, sits for a photograph at a diner in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Sept. 24, 2019.  Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Jason Franson.

At the Fish Place diner in Fort McMurray, booths are filled with oil workers in baseball caps and the parking lot is lined with pickup trucks sporting six-foot (1.8 meter) neon safety flags, a hallmark of the mining industry.

Fort McMurray is the regional hub for the oil sands that produce two-thirds of Canada’s crude, a status that puts the city carved out of Alberta’s wilderness at the heart of the Oct. 21 federal election.

Robbie Picard, who heads an oil-sands advocacy group, calls it “the most important election we’ve ever had.” Over a breakfast of eggs and cheese in the diner, Picard said that a second term for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would cause “anxiety, depression and despair” in the city. “I’m terrified for our future,” he said.

In a campaign that’s been uncharacteristically personal in tone for Canada, energy and the environment is arguably the key policy area that will decide the election-and most agree the outcome of the vote will in turn be crucial for Canada’s energy sector.

Not only will it determine the future of carbon taxes, pipeline approvals and environmental regulations, it’s also a referendum on a dispute central to the country’s identity: Is Canada a global oil superpower or is it a leader in fighting climate change?

Trudeau and his Liberal supporters argue that it can be both, using proceeds from its oil and gas to fund green-energy solutions. He says he has supported the industry more than his Conservative predecessor, spending C$4.5 billion ($3.5 billion) to save a key pipeline project from cancellation, taking flak from the environmental camp in the process.

But critics including his main challenger, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, hammer him for abandoning a pipeline through British Columbia, failing to push through another line to Canada’s east coast and passing a law that they say will make major energy projects impossible to approve. Trudeau’s comment at a town hall meeting in Ontario back in 2017 that the country needs to phase out the oil sands has added to the sense that it’s not just specific policies but the industry’s very existence that’s on the ballot.

“Do we want our energy industry to be a global player, or do we want our industry to go into hibernation and we’ll just slowly shut it down?” Derek Evans, chief executive officer of oil-sands producer MEG Energy Corp., said in an interview. “That’s the point we’re at.”

The source of the dilemma lies in the expanse of forests and marshes surrounding Fort McMurray. These lands contain the world’s third-largest crude reserves, but the sticky bitumen extracted needs to be transported to market, and that means building hugely contentious pipelines. At present, there just aren’t enough of them for an energy sector that accounts for a tenth of Canada’s economy and a fifth of its exports.

In recent years, rising production from the oil sands has strained against limited pipeline capacity, exacerbated by delays to projects like TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone XL. That has weighed on regional oil prices and prompted companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and ConocoPhillips to sell off Canadian assets in a $30 billion-plus capital exodus.

A year ago, the pipeline pinch reached crisis proportions, sending Canadian heavy crude prices crashing below $15 a barrel and prompting Alberta’s government to intervene with mandated production cuts to stave off a full collapse. While prices have rebounded, the situation remains tenuous, hitting Alberta’s economy hard and inflaming opposition to Trudeau’s federal government.

The political predicament is encapsulated in the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries the heavy crude extracted near Fort McMurray about 715 miles (1,150 kilometers) westward to a Pacific port near Vancouver.

In 2013, then-owner Kinder Morgan of Houston won federal approval to triple the line’s capacity, promising to alleviate the bottlenecks and help Canadian crude reach new markets in Asia. But the proposal hit so much opposition-legal challenges, protests and a British Columbia government pledging to block it-that by last year Kinder was ready to abandon it.

Then, in a move that stunned the nation, Trudeau’s government swept in to buy it, vowing it would be built. Yet the purchase won Trudeau little support in deeply conservative Alberta, and it only hurt his standing with environmentalists, earning him the nickname “Justin Crudeau.” While opposition remains, construction on the project has begun.

Naomi Klein, the prominent Canadian writer and activist, said the purchase highlights the “utterly hypocritical” position Trudeau has taken since coming to power, allowing the oil sands to expand while claiming to make Canada a climate leader.

“What we need to be doing is investing the billions of dollars that the Trudeau government has been spending buying pipelines on rolling out renewable infrastructure,” she said in an interview. “We have not done that. We’ve wasted precious time.”

Trudeau’s energy policy thus risks alienating voters on both sides of a debate that is increasingly becoming a key dividing line across Canada. It’s a political reality that Scheer is playing upon, portraying his Conservative Party as a champion of the oil sector and pledging to remove the stricter environmental regulation brought in by Trudeau. With her party polling at a record, Green leader Elizabeth May also sees an opening.

Current polls suggest a close race, with Trudeau’s Liberals set to lose their majority. That raises the prospect of a minority Liberal government with the even more environmentally minded Green Party and New Democratic Party-“a nightmare” outcome for oil sands advocates like Picard, but arguably one in tune with voters in large parts of Canada. MORE

 

Elizabeth May: Solving the climate crisis is ‘Mission Possible’

Clearly we need an Ecocide Law to hold corrupt politicians accountable for criminal acts endangering the planet.


File photograph of Elizabeth May by Alex Tétreault

On Monday night, June 17th, the Parliament of Canada held a last few hours of debate on the Liberal motion that Canada accepts that we are in a climate emergency. The original motion had been tabled on May 16th. As Minister Catherine McKenna spoke in the chamber that day, I launched the Green response to the national clamour for a Green New Deal. Paul Manly (Green MP from Nanaimo-Ladysmith) and I launched Mission: Possible, calling for the complete elimination of fossil fuel use by 2050, slashing dependency by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

We can see no other way for Canada to pull our fair share of the weight to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change imperative that we must adhere to our Paris Agreement goal of holding global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C.

Failing to meet that target, even allowing the global average temperature increase to reach 2 degrees C, will create unacceptably high risks that we will pass a point of no return. Human civilization and the extinction of millions of species requires that we take the climate emergency seriously.

It will not be easy, but we know it is possible.

The May 16th climate emergency debate was adjourned. It did not surface on our agenda again until the night of June 17th, with a time limited opportunity to consider the matter.

I addressed a nearly empty chamber.

All the other leaders were in Toronto for the Raptors Rally. That is not something I would criticize. The national Raptors reverie has been good for our spirits. We want to celebrate.

But why did the government pick that night for debate?

And, much, much worse, after passing a motion that we are in a climate emergency, why did they – the very next day – commit billions of federal public dollars to build a pipeline?

That pipeline will violate indigenous rights, threaten every waterway it crosses, the Salish Sea through which tankers will navigate and, at the same, time increase our climate warming emissions. It is reckless.

Worse, given the scale of the threat of climate breakdown, it borders on the criminal. MORE

No business case for TMX, says former Liberal environment minister

‘No credible evidence’ to suggest Asia will be a reliable market for bitumen, David Anderson says


The federal cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline by Tuesday. (John Gibson/CBC)

A former Liberal environment minister is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet to reject the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, arguing there is no economic basis for the project.

David Anderson, who served 10 years in the cabinets of prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, sent letters to six members of Trudeau’s cabinet this week asking them to dismiss the pipeline proposal.

“There is no credible evidence to suggest that Asia is likely to be a reliable or a significant market for Alberta bitumen,” Anderson wrote in the letter dated June 11.

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday. Given Trudeau’s government bought the pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion, it’s widely anticipated to give it the green light.

Anderson holds a law degree and served eight of his 10 years in cabinet as the senior federal minister for British Columbia. While he was environment minister in 2002, Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. He is now an honorary director of West Coast Environmental Law and has previously spoken out against the Trans Mountain project.

His letter doesn’t focus on the climate and environmental impacts of the expansion. Instead, he took aim at the economic argument for the project, which he described as the “perceived need for a pipeline connection with tidewater in order to sell Alberta bitumen in Asian markets, where, so it is claimed, it would find new purchasers.”

Building a new pipeline will not change the market.– David Anderson, former federal environment minister


David Anderson is pictured behind then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien in the House of Commons on Nov. 6, 2003. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

“With respect, you and other government ministers have yet to provide evidence in support of that hope,” he wrote.

Anderson wrote that Asian refineries have better supply options than Alberta. Compared with conventional light and medium crude oil from Nigeria and the Middle East, Alberta bitumen is expensive to produce, hard to handle and provides no security of supply advantages, he said.

Further, he said despite access to tidewater through unused pipeline capacity in the existing system and through American Gulf of Mexico ports, Alberta’s bitumen has not found or developed any significant offshore market in Asia or anywhere else. MORE

Jody Wilson-Raybould and the paradox of reconciliation in Canada

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Hayden King is Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchi’mnissing in Huronia, Ontario. He is the Executive Director of Yellowhead Institute, based in the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson University.

…At the end of her meticulous recounting of what she called “inappropriate” pressure her colleagues applied in an effort to defer SNC-Lavalin’s prosecution, Ms. Wilson-Raybould linked these two threads: “my understanding of the rule of law has been shaped by my experience as an Indigenous person and leader. The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected … And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality, and a just society this can have firsthand.”

Knowing these dynamics better than most, and despite any of her efforts, Ms. Wilson-Raybould has been a part of a government responsible for perpetuating lack of respect for the rule of law, in this case in relation to Indigenous issues. How can all of this be reconciled? MORE

Earlier this year, in response to widespread outrage, “rule of law” was official government messaging when the RCMP served a pipeline company’s injunction in Uni’stot’en territory, on lands the clan has not agreed to share in a treaty (what the Supreme Court calls “title” lands). From Oka, through Ipperwash, Caledonia, Elsipogtog, and two dozen other examples of conflict over land, the rule of law is a prime-ministerial invocation that twists the law.

On criminal justice, the Supreme Court has demanded that the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples be addressed with unique sentencing protocols known as the Gladue Principle. The directive is overwhelmingly ignored by lower courts, provincial and federal officials, and incarceration rates continue to rise.

Law after law dating back to the Gradual Civilization Act in the mid-1850s have discriminated against Indigenous women. Canada has argued in court that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t apply to First Nation women. Indeed, there is still gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

Indigenous children are somehow invisible to the rule of law, too. Last week the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued its seventh non-compliance order against Canada for failing to fully and completely end discriminatory policies.

Late last year, in a speech to First Nation leaders in B.C., and on the eve of her demotion to Veterans Affairs, Ms. Wilson-Raybould called out those among us who have little faith in Canadian institutions and laws. These individuals, she said, “in the name of upholding Indigenous rights, critically oppose almost any effort to change [within the Canadian constitutional framework].” This is an apt characterization, though to be fair, the heretics have ample evidence of corrupt institutions on their side. MORE

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Wilson-Raybould’s place in Liberal party at risk after SNC-Lavalin testimony

When Indigenous Assert Rights, Canada Sends Militarized Police

It’s become routine, but ignores latest law on rights and title, say experts.

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RCMP action against the Wet’suwet’en last week was intended to send a message, says professor Jeffrey Monaghan. Photo by Michael Toledano.

The use of heavily armed RCMP to enforce a court injunction and tear down an Indigenous blockade against TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline in northwestern British Columbia last week was part of a familiar pattern, say criminologists.

“It seems like Canada uses a show of force and police repression whenever it wants to contain First Nations exercising their aboriginal rights and title,” said Shiri Pasternak, a criminologist at Ryerson University and director of the Yellowhead Institute, a research centre focused on First Nations land and governance issues.

“Canada is creating the problem by refusing to recognize what its own courts are saying about aboriginal rights and title,” added Pasternak.

Over the last decade rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have established that Canadian governments have a duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous people before resources are extracted from their land, and that in many cases their land and title rights have not been extinguished. MORE

 

The women fighting a pipeline that could destroy precious wildlife

Activists fight to stop construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which endangers an ecosystem that is one of the most important bird habitats in the western hemisphere

Deep within the humid green heart of the largest river swamp in North America, a battle is being waged over the future of the most precious resource of all: water.

On one side of the conflict is a small band of rugged and ragtag activists led by Indigenous matriarchs. On the other side is the relentless machinery of the fossil fuel industry and all of its might. And at the center of the struggle is the Atchafalaya river, a 135 mile-long distributary of the Mississippi river that empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The “water protectors”, as they call themselves, are camped near the path of the pipeline. Many live locally, but others come from afar, often hailing from tribes affected by similar issues, such as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Their efforts are focused on public protest to raise awareness, as well as direct actions to impede construction of the pipeline, which they say endangers the Atchafalaya hardwood forest and cypress-tupelo swamp, the largest in North America. MORE

Nine Things You Need to Know about the Unist’ot’en Blockade

The RCMP moved Monday to break up a First Nations protest. Here’s how we got to this point.

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Heavily armed RCMP officers arrived Monday to shut down Indigenous checkpoints blocking a natural gas pipeline. Photo by Michael Toledano.

Where is the Unist’ot’en blockade and what’s it about?

The gated checkpoint is on a forest service road about 120 kilometres southwest of Smithers in Unist’ot’en territory at the Morice River Bridge. Two natural gas pipelines are to cross the bridge to serve the Kitimat LNG project. Unist’ot’en is a clan within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs claim title to the land, based on their pre-Confederation occupation and the fact that they’ve never signed a treaty. Their claim has not been proven in court.

The gated checkpoint is meant to control access to their traditional territory. A protocol for entry, based on principles of free, prior and informed consent, is publicly available. While the first checkpoint was built by the Unist’ot’en clan, all the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have affirmed that their consent is required prior to any development. MORE