The Controversy Between Persistence and Resistance

A snapshot of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project today 

Lily Bell // Contributor

You may have heard the UN Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change’s report declaring that we have 12 years to decrease our carbon emissions by 45 per cent to prevent irreversible damage to our climate. To mitigate this, Canada and 184 nations worldwide have agreed to specific climate targets. However, Canadian climate scientist, Ian Mauro, predicts the number is closer to 18 months.  

If you live in the lower mainland, the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX) debate should be familiar to you. In short, the TMX project is a twinning of the original pipeline built in 1953. The additional pipeline would increase the transport of crude oil from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day, which in turn would increase the number of tanker traffic on the Salish Sea. 

Since the TMX project’s first conceptualization in 2013 First Nations groups, environmental scientists, and activists have been putting their lives on the line to prevent its construction. “This fight is really about climate and realizing the mass injustice of putting a project across First Nations territories that have not consented to it,” Peter McCartney explained, Climate Campaigner from the Wilderness Committee. The proposed pipeline route would cross 120 First Nations territories in both British Columbia and Alberta.  

“We got started fighting Trans Mountain in 2010 before the expansion was even proposed,” added McCartney. “It was after we had discovered that the terminal at Westridge had moved from being a port that supplied local refineries in the Salish Sea area, to exporting diluted bitumen.” Bitumen is a concern because it doesn’t float like regular oil but sinks to the ocean floor, making a spill cleanup virtually impossible.  

Justin Trudeau’s Federal government purchased the TMX project for $4.5 billion in June of 2019 in a controversial bid to restart the expansion. Ali Hounsell, a spokesperson for Trans Mountain, explains that “the benefits for Canadians is really for Canada to get more money for its natural resources. It allows Canada access to build relationships with other markets, and supply Canada’s much desired product while getting a better price for it.” 

Minister of Natural Resources, Amarjeet Sohi, has stated that some of the project’s proceeds will fund green technology down-the-line. But Ali Hounsell states that Trans Mountain doesn’t see green infrastructure as a valid economic endeavor today. “The need for the pipeline is strong for at least the next 20 years, making it economically viable,” said Hounsell. “The technology and development happening in terms of alternative fuels and resources are taking longer to replace oil completely.” 

However, McCartney sees the potential of climate-driven disasters as a timelier issue than temporary infrastructure that would move our country further away from its climate goals. “Ultimately, the speed and the scale at which we have to make this transition should completely forestall any new fossil fuel development. The Canadian government is spending $16 billion to build this project. Why don’t we just invest in green energy!” McCartney emphasized. 

At the end of August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, citing both the impact on endangered southern resident killer whales by marine shipping and Trans Mountain’s lack of consultation with Indigenous groups. However, not long after its purchase the federal government reapproved the pipeline, and in response to the project’s federal consent, twelve appeals were filed against it. This included eight First Nations groups, a group of Canadian youth, the City of Vancouver, and two environmental groups.  

The Federal Court of Appeal decided in August that six out of twelve parties could challenge the project: The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, the Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe, the Stk’emlupsemc Te Secwepemc of the Secwepemc Nation, Coldwater Indian Band and Upper Nicola Band. “In an age when we’re talking about reconciliation, we should know better than to be violating the human rights of communities that rely on the land and water of their territory to support their entire culture and their livelihoods,” said McCartney. 

Trans Mountain intends to go forth with construction despite the active legal challenges. “They still have to get the route approved in a lot of places, so they can’t start construction without it,” explained McCartney. However, Hounsell added that, “Construction is underway at the Burnaby and Westridge Marine terminals and we have construction expected to start soon at our Edmonton terminal, and in between those two ends.”  

With time both scarce and incredibly valuable, there remains an unignorable tension on both ends of the debate. The First Nations court cases have a matter of weeks to overturn the approval, and the next federal election is on October 21st. Whatever the outcome, it remains that both parties stand to lose large. All that is left is a matter of time.  

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