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Trudeau gives billions to questionable energy projects while withholding funding for Indigenous children

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Prime Minister Trudeau attends National Aboriginal Day Sunrise Ceremony. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

Want to get a few billion dollars from Justin Trudeau? All you need is to be a white-settler-dominated provincial government, with a haphazard plan to build an energy mega-project and no demonstrated track record of being able to do anything of the sort (in fact, a track record of repeated failures).

What you don't want to be: an Indigenous government trying to help your children.

This summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that before increasing funding for Indigenous children -- as basically ordered to do by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in January 2016 -- he wants them to prove they have the capacity to use the money that they've been begging for. "A lot of Indigenous communities haven't had the opportunity yet to take that responsibility, to actually think about how they can and must deliver [services]," said Trudeau.

Yet in November 2016, Trudeau's Liberal government provided $2.9 billion in federal loan guarantees for the Muskrat Falls project, a scandal-ridden mega-project being constructed in Labrador against the wishes of local residents, communities and Indigenous land protectors. That's on top of a previous $5-billion loan guarantee provided by the Harper Conservative government to the Muskrat Falls project in 2013.

The billions in loan guarantees came despite clear evidence of incompetence and disorganization on the part of Nalcor, the provincial Crown corporation spearheading the project. Cost overruns have bloated the cost of the project from an initial estimate of $7.7 billion to an updated estimate of $12.7 billion. Operational costs have tripled. Residents of the province have been told their energy bills may double as a result of the increased costs.

Meanwhile, concerns over methylmercury poisoning, and the structural stability of the North Spur component of the project, have led to ongoing Indigenous-led protests against the project. In October 2016 Indigenous land protectors stormed and occupied the site after RCMP attempted a crackdown on protests which included the violent arrest of one youth. Earlier this year, unprecedented water levels flooded the community of Mud Lake and left many homeless; an investigation is underway to determine whether the project was responsible.

The former CEO of Nalcor either resigned or was fired (or both; after a he-said, he-said argument between the provincial government and Nalcor's board, board members also resigned en masse); the new CEO declared the project a "boondoggle" and a disaster, and promptly continued pouring money and resources into it; and a report recently surfaced suggesting contractor SNC Lavalin warned about the potential cost overruns, and the risks posed by Nalcor's lack of experience with projects of this type and scale, as far back as 2013. Most people involved in the project, both now and then, are currently denying ever having seen the report, while also accusing others of having seen it and failing to act on it.

In other words, Muskrat Falls is a disorganized disaster, and has been since its inception. Yet Prime Minister Trudeau was more than happy to sign over $2.9 billion in loan guarantees to the project, despite the fact it was already mired in scandal and had already been denounced by the Indigenous-led land protectors and communities where it was being built.

Yet while Trudeau will throw billions of dollars away on a demonstrated disaster of this nature, which is led by a crew without a plan, he won't even fulfill the demands of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and increase funding to Indigenous groups to support their children's basic human rights needs.

There are two ways to read this story.

Either the people of Newfoundland and Labrador (the majority of whom are opposed to the project, according to recent surveys) should be offended that Prime Minister Trudeau didn't exercise the same paternalistic second-guessing over Muskrat Falls, and withhold the billions in loan guarantees that are now going to leave the province in debt and poverty for generations.

Or Indigenous communities should be offended that Prime Minister Trudeau isn't willing to exercise the same, er, generosity toward them and their children that he demonstrated toward a lost-and-drifting-into-disaster energy project pitched by a scandal-ridden provincial government.

Either way, the outcome is the same: Prime Minister Trudeau's funding decisions are hypocritical, pure and simple.

Hans Rollmann is a writer and editor with TheIndependent.ca, and has been published in a range of other publications including Briarpatch Magazine, PopMatters, and rabble.ca's UP! Labour series. He also works in radio broadcasting and community/labour organizing.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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