Pipeline protests – how politicians got it all wrong

There may be no right way to do fossil-fuel megaprojects at all anymore if we’re going to have a hope in hell of meeting our 2015 Paris Climate Accord commitments, but as far as the massive LNG Canada Kitimat plant and pipeline project goes – with the showdown this week on a remote British Columbia backroad that immediately escalated into protests and marches and sit-ins across the country – the politics, promises and planning seem to have gotten just about everything wrong.    

You could start with the way Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cheered LNG Canada’s announcement last October that the green light LNG got from B.C’s NDP government meant full steam ahead for its long-planned $40 billion project, which is to include a new pipeline from Dawson Creek in the Peace River country to a liquifaction plant and export facility at Kitimat on the B.C. coast.

“Today’s announcement by LNG Canada represents the single largest private-sector investment project in Canadian history,” Trudeau said. “It is a vote of confidence in a country that recognizes the need to develop our energy in a way that takes the environment into account, and that works in meaningful partnership with Indigenous people.”

A closer look at the LNG Canada consortium shows a lot less in the way of private sector investment than you might think. Royal Dutch Shell and Mitsubishi are private companies, but the other partners in the consortium aren’t. The Malaysian government owns Petronas. Petro-China is the listed arm of the Chinese government’s China National Petroleum Corporation. And the South Korean government own the Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS).

The words “meaningful partnership with Indigenous people” don’t exactly spring to mind, either, in light of that showdown on Monday more than 40 kilometres into the mountains on the Morice West Forest Service Road. A team of Mounties all kitted out in military gear had been dispatched to pull down a blockade that local Wet’suwet’en people had set up to keep TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline workers out of their territory.

To be fair, it’s not as though TransCanada hasn’t tried to do things at least in the most expedient fashion. Before things got nasty this week, Coastal GasLink had awarded $620 million in contracts to First Nation businesses for right-of-way clearing and other such work. And the company had secured agreements with all 20 elected band councils in the general vicinity of the pipeline route, besides.

The company said it had run out of patience with a group of anti-pipeline Wet’suwet’en activists out at the Unist’ot’en camp, a small protest settlement near Gosnell Creek in the Upper Morice Watershed that had set down roots nine years ago when the now-cancelled Enbridge bitumen pipeline was the thing people were angry about. The Coastal GasLink crews were being prevented from crossing a bridge near the camp, so the company, buoyed by the October LNG announcement, got a B.C. Supreme Court injunction last month that orders the blockade leaders to back off.

"It’s the aboriginal rights and title of the Wet’suewet’en people that are at stake here, and that’s the subject that the federal Liberal government, and B.C.’s NDP government, are trying to avoid."

Anticipating the Mounties moving against the Unist’ot’en crew, another group of Wet’suwet’en chiefs set up another roadbock 20 kilometres closer to town on the Morice Forest Service Road, and, armed with an amended injunction order, the RCMP went after that group on Monday, arresting 14 people. “We respect the rights of individuals to peacefully express their point of view, as long as their activities do not disrupt or jeopardize the safety of the public, our employees, our contractors, and even themselves,” Coastal GasLink president Rick Gateman explained Monday. This was a strange echo of a statement from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office: “The RCMP respects and protects the right to peaceful demonstrations as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The problem here is that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were not intending to merely “express their views,” peacefully or otherwise, and the Charter of Rights has nothing to do with it. The Charter comes under Section 25 of the Constitution. Aboriginal rights are protected in Section 35. It’s the aboriginal rights and title of the Wet’suewet’en people that are at stake here, and that’s the subject that the federal Liberal government, and B.C.’s NDP government, are trying to avoid.

Terry Glavin 

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