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The American Oil Giant Turning Canadians Against Trudeau

Everything you need to know about the battle brewing in the North.

Photo credit: Rogue Collective via Protect the Inlet

In Canada, we often hear from our neighbours to the south how lucky we are in our leaders. When Trump was declared President, we felt a warm glow of pride at the envious looks directed at us and our prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Eloquent, a self-proclaimed feminist and champion of the environment, Trudeau had become more than a good-looking politician with a famous name: he had become a symbol of our perceived moral superiority over America (sorry).

So you have to understand that now, amidst the anger and overblown rhetoric circulating in Canada about a certain pipeline, there’s also the bitter taste of betrayal.

Progressive people voted for Trudeau. People who believed in a democratic future, bending toward social justice. People who believed his promises to address climate change. People who believed his talk of a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.

What has turned so many Canadians against Trudeau? Ironically, that honour goes to American Big Oil, with a little help from our very own tar sands.

An American oil corporation, in over its head.

Some background: in 2011, Texas-based Kinder Morgan proposed the Trans Mountain expansion project, a new pipeline along an old line from Northern Alberta’s tar sands to the port of Vancouver. The appeal for Canada and Alberta’s governments was to get landlocked crude to markets outside the US.

They could never have expected the level of opposition they would face.

After all, Kinder Morgan has never built a pipeline in Canada before, and the company likely didn’t understand the complexity of jurisdictions in their path: from the federal government, to provinces like British Columbia and Alberta, to influential municipalities like Vancouver, to — most importantly — Indigenous Nations.

The vast majority of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline crosses over unceded Indigenous territories. In most of Canada, as European contact spread east, colonists forced Indigenous peoples in their genocidal path to sign a series of treaties, even as they were thrown off their lands and their children kidnapped and sent to “Residential Schools” (schools which, notably, provided the template for concentration camps in South Africa and then Nazi Germany).

But the Rocky Mountains made it much tougher for settlers to keep pushing toward the coast to what is now called British Columbia, and that meant British Columbia developed differently. Of around 200 Nations, Tribes and Bands within the colonial borders, most never signed treaties with the Crown. British Columbia is mostly unceded territory, and that has enormous implications — even by British colonial standards.

For Indigenous groups, an environmental insult added to human rights injury.

Marketed to Canadians as a “twinning” of existing pipe laid in the 1950’s, the new pipeline would actually almost triple capacity for diluted bitumen, or “dilbit.” Bitumen is the tar that comes out of Alberta’s oil patch; to move smoothly through pipelines, it has to be diluted with other chemicals, some of which are highly toxic and highly explosive.

As if that weren’t enough: the Aframax tankers that will carry the volatile material are so huge that they barely fit through two urban bridges they would have to cross under for each trip. It’s such a tight and dangerous squeeze that engineers have formed an advocacy group to oppose the plan.

The risk is obvious: a tanker spill more devastating than Exxon Valdez in 1995, the biggest environmental catastrophe since Three Mile Island as far as the US is concerned. That spill was simple crude that floated on top of the water, and yet it still hasn’t been cleaned up properly; you can’t just replace destroyed ecosystems. A spill involving bitumen sinking to the bottom of the sea? The consequences are almost unthinkable. Every threat drives home how precious these waters and lands are, and how much is at stake.

When the Trans Mountain pipeline was first built in the 1950s, Indigenous people weren’t even allowed to vote in Canada, and were denied the right to hire lawyers to negotiate the route or the benefits. However far it seems we’ve come, when it comes down to it, Trudeau and his supposedly liberal government are as ready to trample rights of First Nations now as his predecessors were half a century ago.

First Nations in BC have fought Big Oil before. And they won.

It’s still a little hard to understand how Trudeau and his corporate cronies thought their pipe dreams could come true given the communities in the pipeline’s path.

Just a few years ago, Indigenous peoples led the fight against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which would have brought tar sands through the heart of their territories in the Great Bear Rainforest. This collective strength has now turned to Kinder Morgan, which has unwisely decided to build its pipeline through unceded territories just slightly south of those battlegrounds.

These sovereign Nations are arguing, with every rational person on their side, that Trudeau and his government failed in their duty to obtain their consent and consult with them in good faith. They include the coastal territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam, whose lands and waters encompass Vancouver, as well as the supertanker port that Kinder Morgan has already started building. Secwepemc territory alone, in the interior of so-called British Columbia, makes up more than half the pipeline route.

The current tensions are coming to a head in densely-populated urban Metro Vancouver, the birthplace of Greenpeace, where Indigenous water protectors and land defenders have launched a new frontline resistance project called Kwekwecnewtxw — Protect The Inlet.

Barely a month ago, 10,000 people marched to Kinder Morgan’s construction site and cheered while Coast Salish peoples built Kwekwecnewtxw, the Tsleil-Waututh word for “a place from which one watches.” The Watch House, a traditional structure to watch for enemies, is right on top of the pipeline’s path. Since then, people have kept watch on Kinder Morgan day after day and night after night, while hundreds have been arrested at the company’s gates just steps away from the Watch House.

Kinder Morgan and Trudeau made a huge miscalculation.

The simple fact is that Kinder Morgan and Trudeau didn’t predict the failure of this project. They underestimated us.

Three years of concentrated pipeline resistance has forced politicians to choose a side. Premier of British Columbia John Horgan is going to bat for us — even with escalating and pathetically desperate threats from Alberta and from Trudeau’s federal government — because he knows has no choice but to represent the overwhelming will of people-powered British Columbians, or lose his job.

Now Kinder Morgan and Trudeau getting desperate. Kinder Morgan has caved to the financial weakness of their project, and set a May 31st deadline to “address the financial uncertainty” of the project before it is scrapped. But instead of letting the project die, Trudeau is making strides to put taxpayer money into the pipeline, effectively providing a government bailout for the Texas-based oil corporation.

The government is about to create a tipping point.

If Trudeau goes ahead and uses our taxpayer dollars to bail out an American pipeline, he’ll be past the point of no return. If the government digs up billions of dollars to pay for a pipeline that steamrolls over Indigenous rights, the west coast, and our international climate commitments, it will be a line in the (tar) sand.

Two billion dollars could fix the outrageous lack of clean drinking water on more than one hundred Indigenous communities with boil water advisories in Canada. If we’re so dedicated to making work for Albertans, $2 billion in subsidies for solar or geothermal energy would pay for good jobs and get us off the oil pipe. Instead, it looks like Kinder Morgan — who can’t even raise its own money on the open market because of the prolonged low price of oil — will get a generous pay off.

Here’s the punchline though: as Grand Chief Stewart Phillips says, “This pipeline will never be built.” Because it’s not up to Trudeau. It’s up to the Indigenous-led resistance that’s gaining ground throughout the continent.

And when Kinder Morgan is dead and gone, we will turn our sights to climate justice and redouble our efforts on other tar sands projects. To Enbridge’s Line 3 and TransCanada’s Keystone XL: look out. To every new tar sands pipeline and rail and tanker project Trudeau and his ilk try to force through unwilling Nations and communities: give up, now. Because we’ll win, every time.

This is just the beginning. As Ta’ah Amy George, elder of the Tsleil Waututh Nation, says, warrior up. The last battle is between climate justice and a dead planet. Which side are you on?


Join the Indigenous-led resistance to Kinder Morgan and the fight for climate justice, take the Coast Protectors pledge now.

Written by Tegan Hansen and Sarah Beuhler

Tegan Hansen is a grassroots organizer and kayaktivist living on unceded Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver, BC. She is the communications team lead for Protect The Inlet. Sarah Beuhler is a political strategist, organizer, and writer from the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples also known as Vancouver, BC.