News

Trudeau government silent on risk from Trans Mountain protests

Finance minister promises to bankroll project, but ignores questions about opposition on the ground

by Hilary Beaumont
May 16 2018, 9:13pm

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, centre right, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Vice President Chief Bob Chamberlin, back right, march with others opposed to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline extension at the company's property, in Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday April 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Even as he promised to cover financial risk to Kinder Morgan due to delays by the B.C. government, finance minister Bill Morneau carefully sidestepped reporters’ questions of how the Trudeau government will handle the risk of delays from court battles, municipal opposition and protesters on the ground.

Since Kinder Morgan handed down its May 31 deadline for the Trudeau government to ensure the Trans Mountain Expansion a way forward through B.C., federal leaders have remained deafeningly silent on the question of opposition from First Nations, eco-activists and municipal governments, instead choosing to point the finger squarely at B.C. premier John Horgan.

“Kinder Morgan cannot resolve differences between governments,” Morneau told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s our responsibility to consider different ways that we can help resolve those differences and address these risks. We’re prepared, for example, to indemnify the project against any financial loss that derives from Premier Horgan’s attempts to delay or obstruct the project.”

Asked whether the guarantee would extend to delays due to protests, Morneau again pointed the finger at the B.C. government, saying the project is being “thwarted” by Horgan.

“By dealing with that particular delay and uncertainty risk, we are enabling a project that we know is commercially viable to move forward,” the finance minister said.

While it’s the strongest signal yet that the Trudeau government will force the project through B.C., First Nations land defenders at an anti-Kinder Morgan camp in Burnaby, now in its seventh month, are vowing not to budge.

The camp is now also facing a bid by residents of the Burnaby neighbourhood where Camp Cloud sprang up in November to have it removed. They presented a petition to council requesting the removal this week.

Over the phone Wednesday, a water defender and supporter of Camp Cloud, called for mass mobilization in Burnaby to prevent pipeline construction, pointing at similar plans for an “emergency mobilization” in Montreal on May 27.

“I fail to understand how the government of Canada can expect all Canadians — and Indigenous [people] included in that equation — how we can be forced to pay for a pipeline owned by foreign interests?” said Arnie Jack, a member of the Williams Lake Band, part of the Secwepemc Nation — the largest First Nations territory the pipeline must pass through. Jack has worked as a journeyman welder in the oilsands from 2012 to 2014, and now supports Camp Cloud by patrolling the night shift.

“The oil company should be paying for this pipeline, not Canadians,” he said.

In March, after Kinder Morgan successfully received an injunction against protests at its work site on Burnaby Mountain, nearly 200 protesters, including politicians Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, were arrested for violating that injunction. In reaction to a similar injunction on Burnaby Mountain in 2014, more than 60 protesters faced charges for opposing surveying work for the pipeline. Some have called the west coast opposition “Standing Rock North.”

In March, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan said the city would not pay for policing costs related to Trans Mountain protests. The city normally covers costs of policing by the RCMP, which is the only local police force. “I don’t think there is anybody in the Western world who doesn’t know now that Burnaby is not paying,” Corrigan told the Globe.

The $7.4 billion pipeline expansion, which would carry triple the volume of oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast, not only faces opposition in Burnaby, but also along the pipeline route in B.C. The Tiny House Warriors, for example, are building structures along the route in Secwepemc territory in an attempt to thwart construction.

“We have never sold the land, we’ve never entered into a treaty or purchase,” said Jack. “By the colonial standards of Canada, and the constitution of Canada, this is still our land,” he said, referring to the Shuswap Nation in the B.C. interior.

Jack said elders of the Shuswap Nation have directed its members to defend the land and water against Kinder Morgan.

“Since we’ve never ceded, surrendered or sold the Shuswap territory, we cannot allow this pipeline to go through. That’s one of the largest issues that comes into play in this matter. It doesn’t matter how much they put into this pipeline, it doesn’t matter who they are going to make pay for it — it’s not going to go through in the end, because the Shuswap Nation elders don’t want it.”

In a statement Wednesday, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said, “Canada cannot indemnify against the risks of not respecting Indigenous Title and Rights.” Chief Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith Indian Band, also of the Secwepemc Nation, added that Kinder Morgan shareholders have been, “duped by Canada into thinking that they can proceed without the consent of Indigenous Peoples.”

Morneau opened the press conference Wednesday with several mentions of “the rule of law,” arguing that the Canadian government has jurisdiction to build the pipeline.

In December 2016, natural resources minister Jim Carr went further, suggesting the government would consider using “defence forces” to counter protests and ensure the pipeline is built. He later backed down, saying “there is no warning intended.”

With only two weeks left before Kinder Morgan’s deadline, Morneau emphasized the benefits of the pipeline expansion, promising it will create 15,000 jobs and would help Canada’s struggling oil sector.

“We see every day as important here,” Morneau said. “We want this project to move forward in a way that actually allows us to get the advantages that we see, that allows us to get the jobs that can be created through this project, and allows us to get the prices that we think we should get on international markets for our resources.”