Last year thousands joined a sit-in in Victoria against the Northern Gateway pipeline. As Susan Spratt, organizer for what was then the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) said, “The ongoing risks that these tar sands pipelines and tankers pose aren’t worth any price. Tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. We will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in B.C. and our First Nation sisters and brothers.”

A similar movement is emerging against Enbridge’s plan to pump toxic tar sands through the 38-year old pipeline Line 9. Last month hundreds of people — including indigenous communities, environmentalists, students, faith groups, musicians and trade unionists — marched and rallied against Line 9. Next week the Ontario Federation of Labour is holding its convention in Toronto, and a number of unions have submitted resolutions against Line 9.

But there are a number of myths about Line 9 that threaten to drive a wedge between labour and the rest of the climate justice movement. Some claim that Line 9 is a progressive tool for controlling energy resources, making the transition to a less carbon-intensive energy regime, and providing good jobs for energy workers. Some counter-pose the Northern Gateway and Line 9 pipelines, claiming Line 9 is a smaller and safer pipeline, intended for domestic use instead of export, and part of a national energy policy that will ultimately reduce carbon emissions through regulation and respect for First Nations. None of this is true.

1. Not for domestic use: Enbridge’s Line 9 project is an effort to revive its 2008 Trailbreaker project, which aimed to pump tar sands through Ontario and Quebec to Portland, Maine for export. The Trailbreaker proposal was composed of three parts: increase flow through Line 6B (Chicago to Sarnia), reverse flow through Line 9 (Sarnia to Montreal), and then reverse flow through the Portland/Montreal Pipeline (jointly owned by Suncor, a major tar sands producer). Enbridge is slowly recreating this project, first gaining approval for Line 9a, and then 9b. If Enbridge gets its way, it could then reverse the Portland/Montreal pipeline to carry tar sands to the US for export.

2. Not a job creator: As climate justice activists have explained, “The ‘jobs’ argument for tar sands creates a fictitious division between the economy and the environment, attempting to pit employment against health and environmental concerns. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has projected that about 6335 jobs in Ontario would be related to tar sands by 2035. While seemingly substantive, this would represent less than 0.1 per cent of jobs in Ontario should an unemployment rate of 10 per cent be maintained with continued population trends — hardly a boom for a rapidly declining economy. For Line 9 specifically, Mike Harris wrote to theFinancial Post suggesting, ‘Ontario will gain 3,250 person-years of direct and indirect employment, and Quebec will gain 1,969 person-years [over three decades].” Breaking down the math, this translates at best to 108 jobs per year for 30 years related to Line 9 in Ontario, and about 66 in Quebec.’” According to the report “More Bang for our Buck: how Canada can Create More Energy Jobs and Less Pollution”—by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labour and environmental groups—the $1.3 billion of federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry could create 18,000 more jobs in the clean energy sectors. According to Dave Coles, past president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), “we need to get serious about the transition to clean energy, and that includes a plan for putting people to work.”

3. Not an economic benefit: Enbridge and the Harper government don’t calculate cost of cleaning up inevitable spills, or the cost that we and future generations will pay for catastrophic climate change. The 2010 spill from Line 6B has cost a billion dollars and is still not cleaned up. The Toronto floods are estimated to have cost $600 million, and the annual cost of flooding in Canada is estimated to become $17 billion by 2050. Line 9 might make money for Enbrdige, but it will do so by undermining the planet on which all our lives and livelihoods depend.

4. Not safer: Line 9 is the same size and old age as Enbridge’s Line 6B—which resulted in a massive spill that contaminated the Kalamazoo River. As Toronto city counselor Anthony Perruzza warned, “The City of Toronto sits at one of the biggest freshwater supplies in the world. These pipelines cross the city, traverse it completely. Any leakage, any rupture, any break, any undetected leaks over time will have disastrous consequences for us and for our water.”

5. No regulation: as the City of Toronto wrote in its submission to the National Energy Board (NEB) last month, “Neither the TTC, Toronto Fire Services nor Enbridge appear to have any specific contingency plan to manage a leak of petroleum should this occur near the TTC entrances.” Furthermore there has been no federal of provincial environmental assessment of Line 9, as provincial NDP Environment Critic Jonah Schein highlighted: “a study by Toronto Area Conservation authorities concluded that a spill from Line 9, like the one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, would constitute a significant threat to drinking water in the GTA. Under new federal rules the project will not receive a federal environmental assessment. But Quebec has committed to conducting a provincial assessment to protect Quebeckers. Why will the Ontario Minister not stand up for the safety and drinking water of people in our province? Why won’t he launch an environmental assessment that allows full public participation and full consideration of the environmental impacts of line 9?”

6. Not sustainable: According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, “exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” All tar sands pipelines, including Line 9, aim to expand tar sands production, which threatens planetary survival and local health. According to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, “air pollution kills about 20,000 Canadians a year and with tar sands expansion, it will only get worse. If we care about our health we need to leave tar sands oil in the ground.” This health threat reaches genocidal proportions when it comes to indigenous communities most impacted by tar sands production and refining. According to Ron Plain from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia: “the lands these companies operate upon were stolen from my community and turned into a toxic wasteland without our consent or consultation. Shell’s plant is located directly on my father’s hunting ground and today, instead of feeding my family these lands kill my community. Shell’s plant to expand bitumen refining in an area already devastated by pollution is effectively a death sentence for our culture, lands and people.”

Indigenous communities are leading the movement against tar sands—opposing tar sands production, the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines, and Line 9—and the climate justice movement is expanding to include the labour movement. As Jim Britton, then Regional Vice President of CEP said in the lead up to the Victoria sit-in, “we want a transition from dependence on fossil fuels that is fair to the workers in the sector, as well as a national energy strategy that includes good green jobs and long term energy security to Canadians.”

This means opposing Line 9—out of solidarity with indigenous communities and as part of a green jobs strategy that is central to rebuilding the trade union movement and averting climate catastrophe. As Naomi Klein said at the founding of Unifor, “If we want to lower our emissions, we need subways, streetcars and clean-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone. We need energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy…The renewal of the public sphere will create millions of new, high paying union jobs – jobs in fields that don’t hasten the warming of the planet. But it’s not just boilermakers, pipefitters, construction workers and assembly line workers who get new jobs and purpose in this great transition. There are big parts of our economy that are already low-carbon. They’re the parts facing the most disrespect, demeaning attacks and cuts. They happen to be jobs dominated by women, new Canadians, and people of colour. And they’re also the sectors we need to expand massively: the care-givers, educators, sanitation workers, and other service sector workers. The very ones that your new union has pledged to organize.”

Jesse McLaren

Jesse McLaren

Jesse McLaren is a physician, activist and blogger, who like Virchow believes that if medicine is to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life. He blogs at,...