Two Greenpeace activists climbed on top of Kinder Morgan’s tunnel boring machine in Delta’s Tilbury industrial area. (Duncan Cairns-Brenner/Greenpeace)

A pipeline to regret

Letter from the editor

About two months ago, the day after Kinder Morgan announced it would suspend all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, Christi Belcourt tweeted: “Seeing Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people stand together in BC and oppose Kinder Morgan is heartening. And it’s working. Before bringing in the troops, the Feds will try to pay different groups off and hang trinkets out to divide. Stay united. #nokindermorgan.”

Now, all pretense of hanging trinkets has been swept off the table. Instead, Trudeau has slapped down $4.5 billion to buy the 65-year-old assets of the Trans Mountain pipeline. If we factor in the $7.5 billion to expand the pipeline, and other costs like financial assurances for spills, the real cost to the public has been estimated to be as high as $15 to $20 billion.

If you weren’t convinced before – simply by being an air-breathing, water-drinking human being – it’s now undeniable that we all have skin in this pipeline game. Trudeau has made us all potential shareholders in a leaky, aging piece of climate-cooking infrastructure.

In 2015, Trudeau won a majority on the strength of the youth vote: More 18- to 24-year-olds voted for the Liberals in every region of the country than for any other party, snatching seats from the NDP. The Liberals impressed young people on issues of marijuana legalization, youth jobs, affordable post-secondary education, LGBTQ+ rights, and – yes – the environment. This purchase is nothing less than a total betrayal of our collective future, and – as Ktunaxa and Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel put it – a declaration of war on Indigenous peoples. Trudeau is banking on the hope that this will be a short-term hit to his political rep and cuddly image, and that we’ll all forget this colossal sellout in a few months.

This purchase is nothing less than a total betrayal of our collective future, and a declaration of war on Indigenous peoples.

There’s no shortage of speculation as to why Trudeau bought the pipeline: maybe he’s planning on waiting until after the 2019 federal election before ramming the pipeline through – or just until the present moment of mobilization exits the news cycle. Maybe $4.5 billion seems like pocket change compared to the value of satisfying Chinese investors in the tar sands – it’s estimated that after 2020, Canada will ship 500,000 barrels per day of crude to Asia, primarily China. Maybe resource extraction is so deeply embedded in the Canadian mythos that Trudeau simply can’t imagine a sustainable energy future for this country.

But in another sense, “honestly, not that much has changed,” says Ben West, a long-time campaigner against pipelines in British Columbia, “other than the federal government is now wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars.” We’ve been saying from the beginning that this pipeline will not be built, and there’s no reason to treat this development as anything other than an escalation of the neoliberal status quo. Most of us have never trusted Justin with the good hair.

Already, climate justice activists across the country have taken brave and creative actions of dissent. Council of Canadians organizer Robin Tress marched through Trudeau’s address at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in Halifax, (literally) blowing a whistle to protest the deal. Activists with Climate Justice Edmonton disrupted Bill Morneau’s speech at a $200-a-plate luncheon with Calgary business leaders. Indigenous and environmental groups are battling the National Energy Board, while Greenpeace activists scaled a Kinder Morgan drill in Delta, B.C. Supporters in B.C. have held court rallies for comrades who have been arrested; high-schoolers in Vancouver walked out of class; First Nations erected a traditional Coast Salish Watch House (Kwekwecnewtxw) in the path of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. June 4, a national day of action, saw rallies and protests across the country.

Perhaps Trudeau thinks that by making the Trans Mountain pipeline a public problem, Canadians will be forced to swallow our principles and support a project we’ll soon be shareholders in. Instead, he’s invested us all in making sure the Trans Mountain expansion never happens. Let’s show him that he’s picking a fight that he won’t win.

Saima Desai was the editor of Briarpatch Magazine from 2018 to 2023. She’s a settler living on Dish With One Spoon territory, and her family is originally from Gujarat, India.

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