Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the Canadian government will purchase Kinder Morgan’s highly contested Trans Mountain pipeline, vowing to commit taxpayer money to expanding the pipeline despite widespread indigenous-led protests and a slew of lawsuits. If built, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will triple the amount of oil flowing from Alberta’s tar sands to the coast of British Columbia. The Canadian government purchased the pipeline for 4.5 billion Canadian dollars—around 3.5 billion American dollars. The decision has sparked widespread condemnation from First Nations and environmental activists, who say that expanding the pipeline will increase pollution in Alberta’s tar sands region, endanger indigenous communities and increase greenhouse gas emissions. We go to Edmonton, Canada, where we speak with Eriel Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action. She is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We now turn to Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the Canadian government will purchase Kinder Morgan’s highly contested Trans Mountain pipeline, vowing to commit taxpayer money to expanding the pipeline despite widespread indigenous-led protests and a slew of lawsuits. If built, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will triple the amount of oil flowing from Alberta’s tar sands to the coast of British Columbia.
Oil giant Kinder Morgan had said that if legal challenges were not resolved by May 31st, it would abandon plans to build the proposed pipeline expansion. The Canadian government stepped in and purchased the pipeline for 4.5 billion Canadian dollars—that’s 3.5 billion American dollars—just days before this deadline.
The decision has sparked widespread condemnation from First Nations and environmental activists, who say that expanding the pipeline will increase pollution in Alberta’s tar sands region, endanger indigenous communities and increase greenhouse gas emissions. But Trudeau is championing the pipeline purchase as part of the country’s efforts to fight climate change. Here is the prime minister speaking to Bloomberg Television on Tuesday.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Our plan to fight climate change features both a national price on pollution, things like a world-class oceans protection plan, but also getting our oil resources to new markets through responsible pipelines.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Trudeau says the Canadian government purchased the pipeline because Kinder Morgan deemed the project, quote, “too risky.” The government will now be responsible for the expansion project, which will add a second pipeline to about 610 miles of the already-existing 715-mile Trans Mountain pipeline. This is not the first time Trudeau has supported Big Oil. Last January, he welcomed the decision by Donald Trump to move ahead on the Keystone XL pipeline project.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: [In both the conversations I’ve had with President] Trump now, Keystone XL came up as a topic, and I reiterated my support for the project. I’ve been on the record for many years supporting it, because it leads to economic growth and good jobs for Albertans. … This is about the responsible approach on growing the economy, creating good jobs for Canadians, while we protect the environment for now and for future generations. This is what Canadians expect of us.
AMY GOODMAN: The government will now be responsible for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which will add a second pipeline to about 610 miles of the already-existing 715-mile pipeline. The expansion project has sparked widespread outcry by indigenous groups in Canada citing environmental concerns. Now some First Nations communities have expressed interest in buying stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline.
We now go to Edmonton, Canada, where we’re joined by Eriel Deranger, the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, recently wrote a piece for Canada’s National Observer titled “I Feel Betrayed by the Government and a System That Has Destroyed the Spirit of My People.”
Eriel, it was great to see you on Saturday at the Lightning in a Bottle festival in Bradley, California. Now you’re back in Edmonton. Talk about what has just taken place and the significance of the Canadian government buying the Trans—this pipeline.
ERIEL DERANGER: You know, what’s just happened is just another chapter in the neocolonial agenda of the Canadian government. We’re seeing land being appropriated from indigenous communities for the construction of a project, in collusion with corporations, that is deemed in the public’s interest, and it is undermining the rights of indigenous communities, but it’s also undermining the safety and health and security of all people by perpetuating more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and violating the rights of everyone.
We’re talking about a government that’s doing a 180 on all of its election platforms—election platforms to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, platforms to address the climate crisis, platforms to address the boil water advisories in First Nations communities. And instead what we’re seeing is taking public funds to invest in a risky—economically risky project, environmentally degradating project and a project that violates the rights of indigenous peoples. We are taking huge steps backwards in progress. And this is no longer a progressive government; this is a backwards government.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, could you talk about what Trudeau said about his commitment to indigenous communities and the steps he’s now taken? Were indigenous communities at all consulted on this decision?
ERIEL DERANGER: You know, this is a tricky, tricky area. The Trudeau government, and even the Alberta government, here in the province, under the premier, Notley, they made really big promises to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which its foundations are really premised on free, prior and informed consent. Now, what we’ve seen slowly since election time is that this promise has been sort of degraded and downgraded a little bit, from free, prior and informed consent to saying things like First Nations don’t have veto power, consent doesn’t really fit into our systems, to really looking at like how are we doing real consultation with First Nations communities. The consultation has been downgraded.
Yes, First Nations are consulted. But what does consultation really mean? If we say no to a project, it’s just no. It means nothing in the long run. It just means, yep, they’ve checked off a box that they’ve consulted with the communities, the communities don’t agree, and let’s keep moving forward. And when we talk about things like in the public interest, whose interest is that? Like, it’s not the interest of First Nations communities. And it just gets to a point where First Nations are bullied. We’re literally bullied. We’re coerced, which is another violation. We don’t have that free of coercion, intimidation, prior information being given to our communities so we can make the best informed decisions on yes or no of these projects. Instead, we’re bullied by both the government and by corporations to say yes to these projects, so that they can go on record and say that they did their due diligence.
AMY GOODMAN: Eriel, can you talk, in this last minute, about the environmental effect of mining tar sands oil in Alberta, where you are, and what it means for the government now to be in charge of that?
ERIEL DERANGER: Yeah. So, right now, what we’re seeing is that this project, the Kinder Morgan project, the government buying it out, is sending a green light, a signal to Alberta that, “Absolutely, let’s keep going. It’s business as usual. Let’s just keep developing this oil as much as we can.” But what we’ve seen over the last 50-plus years in the region is that this project has led to the degradation of our ecosystems from contamination to water systems, contaminations to food sources like fish and land mammals. We’ve seen the contamination to our air quality. And what this has led to is the degradation of the overall health of indigenous communities in communities in the region, but also the overall health and survival of the culture and indigenous rights of those communities that rely on those ecosystems for their rights.
You know, we all have jobs. This is great. We all have jobs. But at what cost? The cost is a degradation to our human health and safety, not just for this generation, but for multiple generations to come. We have not created the policies and the regulatory oversight to ensure the safety of our communities, to the point that we’re still approving projects that aren’t even meeting the bare minimum standards, that aren’t even protecting environmental and human health rights now. We’re approving tailings ponds and tar sands all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Eriel Deranger, we have to leave it there. We’re going to do a Part 2, put it online at democracynow.org. Eriel Deranger is executive director of Indigenous Climate Action.
I’ll be speaking in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday at 5:00. Check our website, democracynow.org.