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Out, damned spot! The Liberals' hands-on approach worsens climate change

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Liberal cabinet ministers Jane Philpott and Catherine McKenna arrive for the cabinet meeting that approved their government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Photo by Brent Patterson.

We can anticipate that Kinder Morgan shareholders will today say yes to the Trudeau government purchasing the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline. Why wouldn't they greedily approve a deal in which the transnational stands to make $3.89 billion in profit?

But this latest expected development puts a further strain on the Liberal trope of the past three years that a "clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand."

Sometimes shortened to just "the environment and the economy go hand in hand," this line has been used countless times. You can anticipate it coming, even count down the seconds, before it is rolled out in an interview, media statement, tweet, or speech.

The Liberals use it as an incontrovertible truth, their equivalent of a "drop the mic" moment when they are defending an indefensible fossil fuel project like the Trans Mountain pipeline.

But their spin just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Clean environment?

Environment and Climate Change Canada acknowledges, "The upstream GHG emissions associated with the entire Trans Mountain pipeline system, transporting 890,000 barrels per day, could be between 21 and 26 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year."

Notably, Ecojustice adds, "It is estimated that Kinder Morgan will [also] produce 60 megatonnes of CO2e per year in downstream emissions."

Strong economy?

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis says that the federal deficit could increase by 36 per cent as a result of the purchase of the pipeline. It says the $4.5-billion purchase cost plus construction costs for fiscal year 2019 alone would add $6.5 billion, inflating the current deficit from $18.1 billion to $24.6 billion.

And while the construction costs of the pipeline had been pegged at $7.4 billion by Kinder Morgan, the corporation now says it could cost up to $9.3 billion to build.

But it will create jobs, right?

Trans Mountain says, "According to Conference Board of Canada estimates, the Project would create the equivalent of 15,000 construction jobs and the equivalent of 37,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs per year of operations."

But earlier this year, the Parkland Institute pointed out, "The claim of 15,000 jobs during the construction phase of the pipeline appears to be a phantom number with no real evidence or credibility behind it. [Kinder Morgan's] own submission to the National Energy Board stated that the total number of construction jobs for the project would be 2,500 per year for two years."

Parkland adds, "[The number of direct, indirect and induced jobs is also] a stretch at best, but made even less reliable given the degree to which the reduced price of oil and lower profit expectations also impacts the jobs projections, since reduced dividends through lower profits would necessarily mean reduced job creation."

Other costs

There are other quantifiable costs -- annual insurance claims in Canada now exceed $1 billion due to floods, forest fires and other extreme weather events; and that $10 billion (roughly the cost of the pipeline) put into higher-speed public rail could generate more than 100,000 jobs and reduce carbon emissions up to five megatonnes.

And there are, of course, always very real human costs. There are the deep social costs of the violation of the Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent, the violence of man camps, the despair of parents looking at the trajectory of climate change worrying about what the future holds for their children and grandchildren.

Years from now, if we aren't able to block the construction of the pipeline, it may be that Justin Trudeau, Catherine McKenna and the other villains in this drama, caught in the nightmare of their "hand in hand" spin, will be like the guilt-ridden Shakespearean character Lady Macbeth, who sees blood on her hands and cries, "Out, damned spot! out, I say!"

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