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Wet'suwet'en solidarity blockades: corporate media's punditocracy is yesterday's news

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Wet'suwet'en solidarity event in Toronto on February 8, 2020. Image: Jason Hargrove/Flickr

Once again, the corporate media are putting a pro-extractivist spin on the news. A recent poll conducted for Global News shows that 61 per cent of Canadians oppose the blockades in support of the Wet'suwet'en resistance to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C. As the mainstream media constantly remind us, these solidarity blockades have led to disruptions of rail traffic across the country, with associated economic costs. On its website, Global News headlined its poll, "61% of Canadians Oppose Wet'suwet'en Solidarity Blockades; 75% Back Action to Help Indigenous People."  

That emphasis obscures the astonishing finding that 39 per cent of Canadians support the blockades, notwithstanding the outrage from media, political and business quarters. That support doubtless testifies to the organizing work of Indigenous and environmental groups over the past decade -- but also to something else. The lyrics to a popular 1960s protest song -- Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" -- are making the rounds again: "There's something happening here, but what it is ain't exactly clear." 

My guess is that what's happening is a political tipping point. Indigenous-led resistance has helped transform the extractivist appropriation of unceded First Nations territories from a regional to a national issue. It's as if thousands of Canadians are screaming, like the fictional TV newscaster in the film Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!" 

There may now be a critical mass of people acknowledging that we are in a state of planetary emergency; that business as usual -- especially in a high-carbon extractivist economy like Canada's -- is a large part of the problem; and that politics as usual seems utterly incapable of dealing with it. That's been the premise behind the Extinction Rebellion insurgency -- government has broken its implicit contract with citizens to protect them and their future, in exchange for taxation and obedience to the law.

But don't expect to find that epiphany in the "oil-soaked rags" (in Ian Gill's evocative phrase) of Canada's corporate press, particularly the Postmedia newspaper chain. As "thought leaders" for the petrobloc -- the loose alliance of pro-extractivist interests -- Postmedia is more partial to the likes of commentator Rex Murphy.  

In combining Jurassic politics, climate science denialism, a love of extreme carbon, a populist style and an undoubted command of the English language, Murphy apparently wants to brand himself a new breed of dinosaur -- Tyrannothesaurus Rex. Putting on his ideological blinkers to avoid considering contrary evidence, T-Rex asserts that Coastal GasLink is "a great energy project that has gone through all the tests and assessments and which holds vast promise of economic benefits and jobs." As for protesters "taking Canada hostage," has T-Rex Murphy ever addressed the stranglehold of fossil fuel corporations over Canada's economy and politics -- evident in multiple ways, from political donations, intensive and ongoing lobbying, and multi-million dollar propaganda campaigns, to the close relations between the industry, the regulatory agency formerly known as the National Energy Board, and Canada's major banks?

It's not only ideologues like Murphy who combine rosy-eyed views of extractivist megaprojects with an inability to imagine a post-carbon future. A sober TV journalist like Keith Baldrey, Global BC's chief political correspondent, writes a syndicated column that (like many other mainstream commentators) evaluates politics as a competitive game for elected office. That insider's view can be a useful public service, so long as it doesn't obscure what politics is at its best -- the way we collectively identify and address societal problems. But unfortunately, Baldrey instinctively equates political realism with acceptance of the imperatives of extractivist capitalism. B.C.'s NDP government "will inevitably have to align itself" with LNG Canada's position, he wrote on January 6, even if that means overriding its recently adopted commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). To take another example, Baldrey is quite ready to call political parties out for hypocrisy when they contradict themselves or reverse their position. But not, it seems, when it comes to fossil fuel megaprojects. In his April 4, 2019 column, Baldrey lauded the provincial NDP, with the support of the opposition Liberals, for offering tax breaks for investors in liquefied fracked gas after having criticized such subsidies while in Opposition. 

Baldrey's reflexive support for extractivism has become even more evident since the Wet'suwet'en solidarity blockades, including his insulting insinuation that Indigenous land defenders could become in effect tools of a "well-organized environmental protest movement."  

These examples could be multiplied a hundredfold. Most of Canada's corporate media punditocracy seems trapped in an extractivist mindset. To escape it, we need to look elsewhere. In this outlet, Duncan Cameron pointed out that the production costs of fracked "natural" gas are higher than the current or foreseeable global market price, making the whole thing an economic absurdity. 

Others agree. I've just read a doctoral dissertation, not yet published, from emerging scholar Sibo Chen at Ryerson University. Chen exhaustively reviewed the public arguments for and against developing LNG in British Columbia, between 2011 and 2017. Major takeaways from this research include not just the significant environmental costs of fracking in northern B.C. (including threats to local agriculture, public health, groundwater and global warming), but also the huge public subsidies required to build the infrastructure, combined with almost mystical faith in uncertain Asian demand for B.C.'s fracked gas.

As often noted, crisis means danger plus opportunity. If the danger is a slide towards a militarized petro-state and deeper rifts within and between First Nations and settler communities, the opportunity is for a more mature economy that decisively breaks with Canada's excessive dependence on extracting high-carbon raw materials for volatile global markets. The declining public support for the Trans Mountain pipeline as its costs escalate is one encouraging sign. The Green New Deal, climate justice, a just transition for resource-based workers and communities -- the ideas are already in circulation, and it seems, finally ripe for activation. 

Murphy is actually right about one thing: the emerging movement is indeed broader than "anti-pipeline." It's ultimately a movement for civilizational survival and renewal. And the success of that necessary project means challenging, transforming, replacing or bypassing the corporate media. What the punditocracy dreads should be a moment of hope for Canadians who want a more sustainable future.

Robert Hackett is a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University, and co-author of Journalism and Climate Crisis: Public Engagement, Media Alternatives. He is also a member of the NDP and of the non-partisan Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE).

Image: Jason Hargrove/Flickr

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