The Liberal Mismanagement of the Pipeline File

Prime Minister Trudeau’s love of airy platitudes has set a new record for incoherence.

First, let’s set the scene.

Coastal Gas Pipeline is a massive project that will allow export of British Columbia natural gas to Asia, often replacing less climate-friendly coal. It will create thousands of jobs, many of them for Indigenous peoples.

The company has done what it should, consulting the elected representatives of the Indigenous groups along the route. They have reached benefit sharing agreements with all 20 of them. Five of them were Wet’suwet’en. The project has been approved by provincial and federal regulatory authorities.

Nevertheless, a group of unelected Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs has come out in opposition to the project. A year ago they stripped hereditary titles away from three Indigenous women who support the project. Some of the chiefs had been defeated when they contested elections to band councils.

As it happens the chiefs would have supported the pipeline if the company had been able to accept a different route across Wet’suwet’en territory.

For a period of time, they and their supporters blocked access to the construction zone. After a prolonged period of discussion, the RCMP moved in and peacefully removed the protesters.

Supportive blockades have sprung up elsewhere including government buildings in Victoria where they sought to prevent civil servants from getting to their jobs, and in Vancouver where they tried to block bridges and the Port, where 43 were arrested.

In Halifax, environmental activists blocked Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland from entering City Hall. Container ships are diverting to the United States leaving port workers unemployed.

The non-Indigenous protesters asserted that they were supporting the hereditary chiefs. No doubt they would have had a different preference had the roles been reversed with the chiefs supporting the project and the elected representatives opposing.

In Ontario, Tyendinaga Mohawk and environmental activists have made it impossible for trains to pass, resulting in prolonged shutdowns for Via Rail and for CN’s network in Eastern Canada. They have ignored pleas from Tyendinaga Mohawk police chief to end their demonstration.

Prime Minister Trudeau was curiously distant from the situation. He was in Ethiopia, with taxpayers’ chequebook in hand, seeking support from African leaders for Canada’s election to the United Nations Security Council. Ethiopia and its neighbours are experiencing an epic infestation of locusts which is devastating crops. Trudeau wanted to talk about $10 million to help empower African women. The next stop was to have been the Caribbean for more of the same but Trudeau canceled that trip.

For the umpteenth time, the Prime Minister said that “There is no more important relationship to me than the one with Indigenous peoples.” He sent ministers off to seek meetings with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the Tyendinaga Mohawk activists. No word on whether he had ministers talking to the elected band councils.

The Coastal Gas Pipeline is supported by a majority of the Wet’suwet’en as shown by who they elected to their band councils. The courts have ruled that the consultation process with Indigenous peoples was adequate and appropriate. They have granted injunctions against the blockades in both Ontario and British Columbia.

The Wet’suwet’en blockade began in December. The supportive blockades in Ontario and elsewhere have been going on for more than two weeks. Many of the protesters are environmentalists who only respect court rulings that agree with them. They and a dissenting minority of Indigenous groups are breaking the law and causing growing hardship for many Canadians.

Canadian exports are being blocked, supplies of propane are running short in Atlantic Canada, travelers between major cities have no rail option, thousands of workers are being laid off, and supply chains are being disrupted.

The government was totally unprepared for this predictable confrontation. Here is where it gets really bizarre.

On February 14th Trudeau said, “We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are also a country of the rule of law and we will ensure everything is done to resolve this through dialogue and constructive outcomes.” Good luck with that.

Tyendinaga Mohawk activists have said they won’t end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en. The hereditary chiefs say they won’t join talks unless the RCMP are ordered to leave. But Trudeau has said that Canada is not a country “where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters.”

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller didn’t get the memo. When asked if the federal government would order the RCMP to leave the territory, he said that the government is “looking at a suite of options.”

A day after saying Canadians must be patient while enduring the impact of the blockade, Trudeau announced that the economic dislocation being caused is unacceptable. He has painted himself into a corner.

On Thursday the RCMP in BC offered to leave the Wet’suwet’en territory if they agreed to not set up any new blockades. This would meet the condition demanded by the Mohawk protesters. Unconcerned about the adverse consequences for thousands of Canadians the hereditary chiefs showed no sign of agreeing.

Sooner or later Trudeau will have to confront the contradictions in his pronouncements. Is he going to throw the painstakingly developed and approved Coastal Gas Pipeline under the bus, together with hundreds of jobs for Indigenous tradespeople? Is the transportation of goods and people across the country to be obstructed every time a clutch of energized activists wants to make an illegal protest? Or will he again disappoint Indigenous Canadians who took his ill-considered platitudes at face value?

It is hard to imagine an outcome of this fiasco that does not further strain relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.


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