In a victory for the climate justice movement, Prime Minister Trudeau, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment Minister Christine McKenna announced during the last week of National Energy Board (NEB) hearings that a decision would be delayed by four months to December 2016 in order to allow for changes to the review process to be implemented before a final decision is made. This means four more months to build opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline.
A new climate test was also announced that would supposedly include the upstream climate impact of increased tar sands emissions, although details have not been released yet. Trudeau has repeatedly drawn a distinction between his Liberal government's more "objective" approach and the former Harper government's cheerleading of pipeline projects—but it is one of style rather than substance. Because the Kinder Morgan review hearings have now been completed, NEB CEO Peter Watson made it clear in an interview with Bloomberg News last week that it would be up to the government to take into consideration any new rules including a climate test. This means that far from being an objective, democratic, science-based review of climate impacts, it will be a purely political decision likely made by Trudeau's cabinet.
As a growing chorus of opposition voices—from Indigenous leaders, to NGOs, to climate activists—rose through the course of the NEB hearings in the last two weeks, it was Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre's pointed opposition to the Energy East pipeline that was singled out by pro-pipeline pundits and politicians for a disgusting display of anti-Quebec scapegoating.
Saskatchewan Conservative Premier Brad Wall led the way stating on his Facebook page, “This is a sad day for our country when leaders from a province that benefits from being part of Canada can be this parochial about a project that would benefit all of Canada, including these Quebec municipalities.” He later tweeted, “I trust Montreal area mayors will politely return their share of $10B in equalization supported by west #EnergyEast.”
Not only does this deliberately misconstrue where the money for transfer payments actually comes from (Quebec taxpayers pay far more into government coffers every year than those of any of the western provinces), it also displays utter contempt for the workers and students of Montreal and Quebec who have led the way in building mass mobilizations against pipelines and for climate justice. This is the opposition that Coderre and the 88 Montreal area mayors were speaking to. It is the same pipeline opposition that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Burnaby Mayor Derrick Corrigan have for years spoken to in the west that has helped get them popularly re-elected, yet it is conveniently ignored when politicians want to use divide and rule tactics to pit English Canadians against the people of Quebec.
The display of national chauvinism didn't only come from right wing politicians but also from sometimes progressive comedian Rick Mercer, usually noted for his support for social justice causes. In what is sure to go down as his most shameful rant ever, Rick echoed Brad Wall and went even further claiming that Coderre didn't care about an Alberta that was “hurting” and that Canada “needed this project,” referring to the tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs in and around the tar sands. This is nothing more than a repetition of the oft repeated lie that jobs or the economy must come at the expense of the climate. Yet it is the climate justice movement in Quebec and across the country and the world that has consistently supported a just transition for oil and gas workers who are thrown out of work while oil executives continue to collect huge paychecks. It is also the workers and students of Quebec who continue to lead the fight against austerity.
Gabriel Nadieu Dubois adeptly pointed out the hypocrisy of these attacks in a scathing column for Ricochet: “These statements (widely circulated on social media) vividly testify to the persistence of a feeling of contempt and superiority over Quebec in the rest of Canada. When Ontario, which also receives equalization payments, announces its position on Energy East you can bet no one will accuse it of living off the coattails of Alberta. This catchphrase, history has shown, is reserved for Quebecers: ‘eat your gruel and shut your mouth.’”
Which side are you on?
Trudeau did not speak out against this anti-Quebec chauvinism when he held a press conference following a hastily arranged meeting with Coderre in Montreal days later. Instead he stated that while he was happy to hear input from all across the country his job was to put the “national interest” first. “My responsibility as prime minister is to make sure that on national projects, we're behaving in a way that both contributes to the economy, to a secure environment, to bringing people together and mostly to creating a better future.”
Yet it is clear that the interests of the Canadian tar sands industry are diametrically opposed to those of working class people across Canada, Quebec, and First Nations. Jobs for Alberta workers do not have to mean toxic oil spills for local communities—disproportionately impacting Indigenous communities—and climate disaster for the world. Trudeau has made it clear which side he and his government will ultimately stand on. The climate justice needs to do the same. We need thousands of tweets, instagram photos, letters of support sent to Denis Coderre and Quebecers that send the message that the climate justice movement in English Canada is united with them.
Join the discussion “What’s wrong with national unity? Quebec, pipelines and the right to say ‘no’” on February 23, 6:30pm at Spartacus Books, Vancouver