The day after he was named B.C.’s premier-designate, John Horgan told a Vancouver radio station that stopping the Trans Mountain oil pipeline isn’t his top priority. It didn’t even come up in his first phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
His first priorities, Horgan said after signing up the B.C. Greens to unseat the B.C. Liberals by one vote, are the opioid crisis, housing and reaching a lumber trade deal with the U.S. Since there’s little he can do about any of these things that isn’t already being done, this is a pirouette from protest to public relations, in the Trudeau style.
Horgan’s swearing-in as premier July 18 conveniently won’t allow him to attend the annual premiers’ meeting that week. It’s in Edmonton, hosted by fellow NDP Premier Rachel Notley, who has joined Trudeau in reminding Horgan he has no constitutional right to blockade a federally regulated resource project. Alberta reporters would want to know more about Horgan’s vow to use “every tool in the toolkit” to stop the upgrade of the only oil pipeline link from northern Alberta to the Pacific, delivering oil and refined fuels since 1954.
Fortunately for Horgan, he can temporarily hand off this promise to the international protest machine gathering to confront the pipeline project’s launch this fall.
West Coast Environmental Law, one of the network of well-funded organizations supporting the U.S.-led “Tar Sands Campaign,” has produced its own “toolkit” for monkey-wrenching Trans Mountain.
Their suggestions include “impose further processes and conditions on the Trans Mountain project related to matters within provincial jurisdiction” and “prohibit any new provincial approvals or permits, and suspend existing approvals until the additional processes and conditions have been satisfied.”
This is essentially the Adrian Dix playbook from 2013: re-establish a parallel provincial process to subvert the existing one. A mere 157 conditions were imposed by the National Energy Board, another 37 by B.C., and Kinder Morgan Canada has committed $1.5 billion extra for a B.C. environmental enhancement fund, thicker pipe, more drilled crossings and a tunnel through Burnaby Mountain.
Speaking of which, staff at Simon Fraser University have been among those enthusiastically preparing a replay of the Dakota Access pipeline standoff in the U.S. This spectacle created rather than prevented an environmental disaster, with a vast garbage-strewn squat and hundreds of vehicles abandoned for the U.S. Army to clean up before spring flooding.
These protests are not about protecting water. They’re about keeping petroleum fuels in the ground in selected places.
The appointment of Vancouver-Fairview MLA George Heyman as environment minister next week would cement the environmentalist takeover of the NDP. Heyman transitioned from president of the B.C. Government Employees’ Union to running the B.C. branch office of San Francisco-based Sierra Club before being elected in 2013.
Now all in with the war on (Canadian) oil, Horgan insists he supports natural gas exports. But so far he’s toed the professional protester line that the leading B.C. project, Pacific Northwest LNG, also hasn’t met a high enough environmental standard.
Most importantly, opponents insist no pipeline has met the United Nations standard of “free, prior and informed consent” by every possible Aboriginal title claimant. This is an absolute demand of Horgan and Green leader Andrew Weaver. It ignores federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s insistence that this can’t simply be imposed on Canadian law.
We are at a point in B.C. history where the urban population is poised to defeat the rural regions, based on exaggerated risk and rejection of benefit. The cost would be high.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @tomfletcherbc