“Government grants permits. Communities grant permission.” Those are Justin Trudeau’s words. 

The people of Canada are disillusioned. They’re tired and despondent. But, they are organizing and they are ready to be civilly disobedient. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the City of Guelph, Ontario.

On July 22, I spent a rainy afternoon inside the incredible homey restaurant, bookstore, and venue known as the Bookshelf E-Bar. Forty of us gathered to take part in a community screening of Zach Embree’s 2018 documentary Directly Affected: Pipeline Under Pressure.

Hosted by Brian Ostrow and Steve Dyck on behalf of the Guelph Citizens Climate Lobby, the gathering represented a mixture of various national and local organizations who engaged in a lively post-screening discussion about opposition to the federal government’s plan to pay Kinder Morgan 4.5 billion dollars for the existing 60-year-old Kinder Morgan pipeline and the expansion of the Alberta oil sands project.

The deadline for bids to buy the pipeline expired on July 22, and as of that date the Canadian government had the only offer on the table. The offer will now be presented to the shareholders of Kinder Morgan. The price associated with this buyout process is only related to the existing pipeline. It would cost Canadian taxpayers another seven billion dollars more to develop the expansion.  Kinder Morgan has been unable to secure even one of the 15-year supply contracts that are common in this industry.

According to Dyck, “Justin Trudeau is placing himself and our government in a dual role. Our government’s job is to regulate industry. By becoming the proponent for this pipeline, the government is placing itself in a conflict of interests. The economic case for the $4.5-billion purchase was dubious to start and the risks to British Columbia’s coastal water, climate commitments, and First Nations relationships make this pipeline deal very bad for Canada.”

The deadline to find a buyer may have passed, but the sale has yet to be consummated.

Instead of looking to the past, Dyck believes that “Canada should skate to where the puck will be — the clean energy economy. We are rich in solar, wind and hydro resources and have the manufacturing sector to lead the world. Doubling down on the bet that the world will not get off oil is not good business, is not leadership, and is not Canadian.”

Bitumen differs from crude oil in that it’s truly a dirty oil — heavy and sour as a result of the large amount sulphur it contains. It takes three barrels of fresh water to produce a single barrel of oil from bitumen, and that in itself is not justifiable. Keep in mind we haven’t even discussed the fact that a barrel of oil refined from bitumen sells for significantly less than a barrel of light, sweet oil — which again means its production is unsustainable.

Although Guelph is nowhere near the proposed buyout or expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, residents recognize the deal not only threatens our communal natural environment but is directly opposed to our collective morals and ethics.

Opponents to the pipeline also see the connection to water protection, climate change, Canada’s Paris Accord commitments, and a real need for honest and open consultation with First Nations. Those in attendance also voiced opposition to exporting dirty bitumen for refining in countries like China with fewer environmental protections, lower wages. Moreover, Canada often blames those countries for adding to global greenhouse gas effects without recognition or responsiblity for the dirty Canadian bitumen shipped to refineries worldwide — the real culprit. 

Guelph is ready to boost the green economy in Canada and hopes to see this spread across the country city by city. Ontario Green Party leader and Guelph MPP, Mike Schreiner, told those in attendance, “Energy policy is generating conflict in Canada. What is often missed is the conflict between big energy and community power. The status quo wants to keep investing in oil, gas and nuclear, but there are already more Canadians working in clean energy than in the Oil Sands.”

Schreiner went on to say, “Not only is renewable energy quickly becoming less expensive, it is also democratizing energy generation. The challenge is that big energy concentrates power, jobs and lobbying pressure, while renewable is spread across the country mostly in small and medium-size companies that don’t have the same political power. Citizens need to support community power.”

Local Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield was invited to the event but was unable to attend.

Directly Affected: Pipeline Under Pressure was screened courtesy of 350.org, a climate activism group based in the U.S., but individuals representing a variety of actionist groups — including a First Nations representative, Guelph Anti-Pipeline Action Group (GAP), Transition Guelph, Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), Fossil Free Guelph, Guelph 350, Council of Canadians, No Line 9, Environmental Defense, Dam Line 9, Plastic Free Guelph, Wellington Water Watchers, as well as concerned citizens — were there to add their voices to the discussion.

Concerned Guelph citizen, Rosanne Morris observed,

When Justin Trudeau did a full one-eighty and reneged on a campaign promise to move forward with much needed electoral reform, he lost my vote. When Trudeau spent 4.5 billion tax dollars to purchase the Kinder Morgan pipeline with an expectation that over 7 billion dollars will be needed to develop its infrastructure, Trudeau lost my vote. MPs like ours, Lloyd Longfield, are put in a position where, much against the Liberal platform which heralded protection of the environment and mitigation of factors feeding climate change, they must support the chameleon federal Liberal agenda. It is important that Mr. Longfield let us know that he hears the concerns of Guelph citizens on these matters and tell us he will report back to the Liberal caucus. It is clear to me the Liberal government is at tremendous risk of being unseated in 2019.

In an open letter to Justin Trudeau and MP Longfield, the citizens of Guelph opposing the buyout stated that they:

  • Do not give permission to use taxpayer’s money to bailout out a Texas-based oil company;
  • Do not give permission to violate promises made at the Paris Climate Conference to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius by 2100;
  • Do not give permission to poison and despoil a vast area of Alberta, threatening the health of local communities;
  • Do not give permission to build a pipeline across unceded First Nations’ territory without their “prior consent”;
  • Do not give permission to threaten the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people who live and work around the Burrard Inlet and B.C. coast which will be decimated by the inevitable tanker spill; and
  • Do not give permission to eliminate an iconic population of killer whales, projected to go extinct with the expected seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.

The letter then continued to state, “Mr. Trudeau, your government was elected on promises to take ‘real action on climate change.’ You have said that ‘you can’t have a strong sustainable economy, without a healthy environment.’ Well, you cannot have a strategy to lower greenhouse gas emissions, while expanding production of the dirtiest oil on the planet. A profitable investment in this pipeline depends on global trends in carbon consumption that will destroy human civilization, as we know it. This is not how you ‘create clean jobs, grow our economy and protect our environment.’ And, you are doing this without consulting the Canadian people, which you promised to do, when elected in 2015 on a platform of ‘real change'”

The letter also addressed MP Longfield’s actions, which may have very real consequences in the next federal election.

(Full disclosure, the author of this article, although not a resident of Guelph, was a signatory of the open letter.)

While Trudeau has yet to answer, MP Longfield responded by email, stating in part:

We have held many discussions on the topic of climate change, and in fact I held a Town Hall at the Italian Canadian Club on this topic a while back. I recall a balanced discussion, in which we addressed the need to ensure the economy, the environment, and social concerns are weighed together as we move forward. I am pleased to say I believe we are using the triple bottom line approach to the pipeline. As a Guelphite, and Member of Parliament that is consistent with my values, and the values of the community.

By phasing out subsidies to the oil and gas industry by 2025, we have a horizon we are working towards, in which we will accelerate clean technology and renewable energy sources. The pipeline as approved meets the targets as set out by the Paris Accord, and emissions where used in the cap calculation by the Province of Alberta.

Ostrow, author of the open letter, and signatories wonder how this purchase meets the targets established by the Paris Accord.

On September 8, Guelph is joining in solidarity with communities across the country and around the world to RISE and demand real climate leadership. On that day, 350.org is building a global climate movement and Guelph is joining the action by holding a rally at 2 pm. outside Old City Hall (59 Carden St., Guelph, Ontario).

Before Members of Parliament from all across Canada leave their ridings and constituents to return to Ottawa, let’s send them off by demonstrating the bar for real climate leadership. RISE up and demand a fossil free world that puts people and justice before profits.

Commit to real action on climate change by demanding our various levels of government work together with First Nations to accelerate the transition to 100% renewable energy by saying “no” to climate wrecking projects like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and yes to a green future. Our very survival depends on it.

Image: Shannonpatrick17/Flickr

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