The intense pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as his government enters its sophomore year is the central theme of a lengthy examination in Maclean’s magazine that declares him to be “losing,” along with the country’s oil industry, over the National Energy Board’s handling of proposals to build pipelines from Alberta’s tar sands/oil sands to coastal seaports.
Nearly 90 Indigenous bands have now signed a Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, committing themselves to common resistance to any pipeline crossing their territories. Even more significantly, the magazine observes, “pipeline opposition has jumped the often fraught line between Indigenous and non-Indigenous politicians.
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“Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, a vocal opponent of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project in B.C., has been in talks with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre,” Maclean’s notes. Coderre opposes Calgary-based TransCanada’s Energy East proposal. “We’re on the same page,” Robertson said, calling the NEB’s approval process for both plans “disastrous.”
“The politics of pipelines have helped topple governments” before, recalls the more than century-old magazine. In 1956, an ill-judged C$80 million loan (that would be worth $700 million today) to the U.S.-owned predecessor of today’s TransCanada helped bring down Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and a 22-year Liberal dynasty. Trudeau’s father Pierre suffered his only election loss in 1979, to Albertan Joe Clark, after his National Energy Program capped the price of western crude and inspired a vitriolic reaction in that province.
The NEB approved Kinder Morgan’s proposal with 157 conditions earlier this year. The Board’s panel hearing TransCanada’s proposal dissolved itself after meeting privately with a company lobbyist and making an undignified retreat in the face of a small demonstration before it began a week of public hearings planned for Montreal. (Disclosure: The Energy Mix founder and Curator Mitchell Beer and Associate Curator Chris Wood have called publicly for the National Energy Board to be disbanded.)
The Board’s decision in the Kinder Morgan case has been the subject of a special three-person review panel.
In Alberta, Maclean’s notes, “a pipeline is widely seen as an escape route from economic anguish,” despite doubts that it will raise the price paid for synthetic tar sands/oil sands crude. But as hearings moved closer to the Pacific, the public’s input “became increasingly one-sided, raging about spill risk, oil sands emissions, and the process itself.”
Now, with echoes of history in the air, Trudeau’s cabinet faces decisions that cannot please both factions, or both provinces, equally.
The Prime Minister’s dilemma prompted Karen Mahon, Canadian director of the American group formerly known as ForestEthics and now as Stand, to speculate whether Kinder Morgan will become “Trudeau’s Clayoquot? It’s a very similar feeling, a good government trying to please everybody.
“But in some places that’s just not possible.”