Trudeau's Betrayal Of The Environment In The Trans Mountain Saga

On May 29th, the federal government of Canada nationalized the Trans-mountain pipeline, for a staggering 4.5 billion dollars. The move was not a surprise. The federal finance minister, Bill Morneau, had been very clear that the pipeline would be built no matter what. Earlier in the month he mentioned that he was willing to compensate Kinder Morgan for any potential loses. Still the move is certainly a surprise.

With the nationalization of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, the completion of the project is practically guaranteed. Rachael Notley was thrill to hear the news but otherwise the response was overwhelming negative. Only  Justin Trudeau could make a move that upset both conservatives and progressives.



After the trans-Mountain Saga, it is unclear if Justin is a climate leader

When Justin Trudeau was elected, environmentalist celebrated the end Stephen Harper’s reign. Justin Trudeau sold himself as a leader in terms of protecting the environment. Looking back on this platform is was not very impression. But Trudeau has always been eager to make lofty speeches and grand promises. The approval of this pipeline permanently damages his image as a climate change advocate.   

A potential defender of Trudeau could make the case that he really had no choice but to nationalize the pipeline. Trudeau had options. The approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline was a process that took years and the opposition from British Columbia was adamant. Kinder Morgan was preparing to walk away from the project on May 31. Without Justin Trudeau’s support this project would have fallen apart, and his support was a clear political calculation.

Understanding where Trudeau stands on climate change is perplexing. He is obviously not someone that is very principled in this approach to environmental and energy policy. The policies that he chooses are clearly a reflection of what will get him the best poll numbers. Well, Harper was mostly concerned with dominating the legislative and executive branches,  Trudeau is very focused on this popularity. The approval of the trans-mountain pipeline presented a unique challenge because every decision that he could make would result in a fall in the polls.

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The goal for Canadians should be clear – A future without pipelines

The negative environmental effects of pipelines are well documented, but the reason why I oppose pipelines this that they are a poor long-term investment. The business model of oil can be profitable, but it is risky. The price of oil is always influx. The fall in the price of oil has already been devastating to Alberta. Some experts have already pointed to the fact that there is no global demand for the oil that the trans-mountain pipeline will provide. As the world moves away from the use of fossil fuels, Canada is going to be stuck with a 4.5 billion dollar asset with a falling value. In long term it makes more sense to put that money into renewable energy projects that could lead to a future with clean and cheap renewable energy.

Right now, the political landscape in Canada makes that impossible

Unfortunately, politics are all about the short term. An optimist would believe that when Justin Trudeau signed the Paris Climate Accords he wanted to follow though on the targets, if for no other reason then maintaining his reputation. The challenge though is how does he maintain the economy in Alberta, a province which is contributing a lot to Canada and which is highly dependent on oil. If Justin Trudeau had opposed this project, it would have opened the door to a Conservative government, a party that would have no problem with many more pipelines. In a way it feels like no matter who we vote for, Canadians are stuck with the same outcome. 

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Winning the battle takes patience and compromise

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation, and we are making progress. The fact the Trans mountain pipeline is moving forward is certainly a setback, but environmentalist should be proud of their track record. Two other major pipelines were canceled in Canada over the last few years (the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Energy East Pipeline). The considerable resistance that environmentalist placed on the Kinder Morgan will certainly make any other oil companies wary of doing business in Canada.

For the would-be climate leaders in the world, like Mr. Trudeau, staying in the game is important. While, historians will spend decades looking back on this decision, current climate leaders need to look forward to find the solution for the future. On a strategic level, climate leaders need to start early to develop plans that take benefit all parties. And if faced with a no-win scenario at least fall back on principles.

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Matthew Griffin