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Liberal hypocrisy on climate emergency

John Bell

June 19, 2019

Just days after declaring a “climate emergency”, PM Justin Trudeau announced his government was approving construction of the Trans-Mountain pipeline. The move raises the bar for government hypocrisy to new heights.

The pipe will carry Alberta’s diluted bitumen from the tar sands to ports on the Pacific. The move will invigorate tar sands development that has been declining because the price of bitumen oil is too high. The tar sands are widely described as one of the most environmentally destructive megaprojects on earth.

Although Trudeau was hedging his bets, the pipeline approval has been a fait accompli for over a year, since his government bought out the corporation Kinder Morgan’s existing pipeline for $4.5 billion of the taxpayers’ money. Building the new pipe will cost at least $7 billion more.


Trudeau has argued that the only way for Canada to meet its climate change reduction targets is to increase tar sands oil production and sales. This is a variation on the old “we have to destroy the village in order to save it” argument.

While the Liberals campaigned and won in part as having a better environmental record than the Harper Tories, Canada has only fallen further behind reaching the targets set in the Paris Accord. The year 2016-17 alone saw a 12 million tonne increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Even before adding in the increased pollution from more tar sands development, this means that Canada is 200 years behind schedule to meet its targets set for 2030.

In order to justify his environmental hypocrisy, Trudeau had to double down on a parallel line of double-speak around Indigenous rights. He announcement was heavy on rhetoric about consulting, and having the support of, First Nations for the pipeline project. The reaction of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs exposed that lie.

“Our lands are burning and flooding. Our fish are dying and our people are suffering,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in the statement. “Now is not the time to recklessly pursue environmentally devastating projects while our territories suffer.”

Legal challenges are being mounted, but direct action is also being planned to stop the pipe from being built. First Nations along the route are building houses to reinforce their land claims and stop pipeline construction. Trudeau claims that his government has met its obligations by “consulting” with Indigenous groups. But the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to which Canada is a signatory requires full consent from Indigenous people before such projects can proceed. Clearly no such consent exists.

Greta Thunberg, the teen who is inspiring an international wave of environmental activism, responded to Trudeau’s hypocrisy: “One second they declare a #ClimateEmergency and the next second they say yes to expand a pipeline. This is shameful. But of course this is not only in Canada, we can unfortunately see the same pattern everywhere…”

Activists here have a responsibility to expose and oppose Trudeau’s planet-destroying policies. That means building solidarity with Indigenous people on the front lines stopping construction. It means exposing the hollow arguments for “strategic” voting that portray the Liberals as better than the Tories. It means supporting the call to nationalize General Motors in Oshawa to start producing desperately needed electric vehicles on the scale we need to undertake this transition. It means pushing for a Green New Deal that puts social and economic justice at its heart. Most of all it means building support for the International Strike Against Climate Change being planned for the week of September 20-27.

The climate emergency is no joke, no empty slogan and no fig leaf for governments dragging their heels as capitalism destroys the planet before our eyes. Our children know this is the fight of their lives. Let’s all support them.

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