Justin Trudeau is in trouble. Deep trouble. It turns out that Canada’s charismatic poster boy Prime Minister, who was once swooned over as a “Disney Prince Rockstar” after his dashing looks and promise of a new style of politics, is just as deceitful and fork-tongued as the rest of them. His clean, shiny suit is cut from the same dirty old cloth.
Trudeau is embroiled in an unravelling scandal in Canada, one that has shown the federal government to be ready and willing to undermine democracy, circumvent the Canadian constitution, and alienate and belittle First Nations and local communities. It’s a scandal that has revealed just how far the government is willing to go — to the point of spending billions of dollars of taxpayer’s money — to cater not even to some fringe faction of Canadian voters, but to a Texan oil pipeline.
High ranking government whistleblowers have come forward to allege that the government rigged a federal review into oil giant Kinder Morgan’s massive new pipeline, at the behest of the oil company itself.
The whistleblowers say that after months of secretive lobbying by Kinder Morgan, Trudeau’s government explicitly instructed staff to find a “legally-sound basis to say yes to the Trans Mountain pipeline” during consultations with First Nations in October 2016.
The instructions were given by then-associate deputy minister, Erin O’Gorman of the Major Projects Management Office (MPMO). O’Gorman had been lobbied four times in the months leading up to the October meeting, according to Kinder Morgan’s own reporting. One whistleblower who attended the meeting recalled: “I was rather shocked at being given that kind of direction. It’s not something that I would have expected from a Liberal government.”
But it seems that this is not all Trudeau’s government has done to appease Kinder Morgan. Following a phone call from the company’s Canadian chief executive, Ian Anderson, high-ranking officials discussed “speeding up” the review of the pipeline, too.
To sum up: the government said they were listening to Indigenous concerns, as they are legally obliged to do under the Canadian Constitution. They said they were weighing the risks and the rewards, acting as a neutral party collecting evidence for and against. But all the while — since at least October 2016, if not much earlier — they had already made their mind up to push forward with the pipeline.
No wonder the shine is wearing off Trudeau.
Speaking of the Disney Prince Rockstar, he was asked recently about the revelations in Parliament: “Was the prime minister aware that members of his government pressured officials to rush the review and produce a positive result for Kinder Morgan?” he was pressed. In response, Trudeau weaved and ducked. “We are moving forward on both building pipelines and bringing in protections for the environment at the same time. It is what Canadians expect of our government, and it is what we are delivering,” he squirmed.
Except you can’t build a tar sands pipeline while simultaneously creating “protections for the environment.” Kinder Morgan’s pipeline would triple the amount of dirty carbon-munching tar sands exported from Alberta; it will mean a dramatically increased risk of leaks and explosions on land and devastating oil tanker spills on water. It threatens mountain forests, salmon-bearing crystal clear waterways, and the delicate coastal ecosystem of the Salish Sea.
This hypocrisy, and the fact that Trudeau has long championed his green credentials, has led even the New York Times to recently label Trudeau “two faced”. As the Times points out, Trudeau’s promises of a new dawn of climate-friendly Canadian politics back at the UN climate summit in Paris in 2015, have repeatedly been shown to be hollow, duplicitous political rhetoric, with his climate targets “meaningless.”
But now he might have pushed too far, and Kinder Morgan’s pipeline may now be doomed. The whistleblower revelations have huge ramifications for Trudeau, as the National Observer notes: “These allegations, if proven in court, would call into question the legality of the decision, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 29, 2016, to approve the Trans Mountain project.”
The Observer isn’t alone in that assessment: on May 2, a 17-page motion was filed by lawyers for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, or People of the Inlet — who are on the front line of the pipeline battle — to the Federal Court of Appeal. The motion argues that the recent revelations confirm that the Trudeau government had a “constitutionally-impermissible ‘closed mind’ or a ‘mind made up’ during the entire review process preceding approval of the oil pipeline proposal in November 2016.”
The motion added: “The facts and circumstances which have given rise to this motion are highly unusual and, indeed, extremely alarming.”
All the while, resistance to the pipeline is growing. Earlier this month, 133 First Nations groups from Ontario lent their support to the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, and also called for an inquiry into the rigging of the consultation. Amy George, a 76 year old grandmother from the Tsleil- Waututh, is one of the many activists prepared to put their bodies on the line against the pipeline. The fight, she says, is about “Taking care of the whales, and the salmon, the seals, the clams, the oysters.” It is about “speaking for the living things that can’t speak for themselves.”
Given what’s already been achieved by this resistance, the government’s shameful rigging attempt might not simply fail, but actually backfire. Just a few weeks ago, after months of protests led by First Nations and an uncompromising stance by the BC government, Kinder Morgan announced that it was suspending all non-essential work on the pipeline due to the ongoing opposition. It gave the government until the end of May to resolve the issues. Since then, both the federal and Albertan governments have pledged financial support to stop the project from collapsing, and Kinder Morgan is demanding more: one former oil executive said the governments needs to cough up $10 billion dollars to secure the pipeline’s future.
Speaking at a press conference, Squamish Nation councillor, Khelsilem said: “It appears that the Trudeau government entered into this process with an end goal in mind. We need to know — we deserve to know — what was the process behind closed doors that the Trudeau government used? Was this process cooked from the beginning? Was it rigged?”
He also warned that if the Federal government did not respect First Nations rights: “I think we’re seeing the beginning of what will become the largest civil disobedience in Canadian history.”