Justin Trudeau and ‘The Pipeline’

How he brought about this situation — and can’t get out.

On August 31st 2018, The Trudeau government purchased the Trans-Mountain Pipeline for $4.5 Billion. This move created a paradox between Justin Trudeau’s words and actions. Until then, Trudeau and his government had given air and attention to the environmental protestors choosing actively to not impose their federal powers in order to approve and build the pipeline. Many articles can be found with focuses on the actual ‘pros’, ‘cons’ and other opinions on the environmental impact of the pipeline. This article will explore the political developments since and the consequences in terms of political capital and power.

When Trudeau ran in 2015, he ran as a self proclaimed feminist, environmentalist and progressive. During this time there were pipeline protestors in both the US and Canada (in the US it was against the Dakota pipeline, while in Canada it was Trans Mountain). The Obama Administration tight rope walked their response in order to generate as little focus on the protests as possible. In the end, during the last month of his presidency he blocked the pipeline, realistically knowing that the pro-natural-gas President Trump would simply lift the block. Justin Trudeau on the other hand gave air to these protests in Canada by refusing to exert federal jurisdiction — as the constitution allows the federal government to exert their jurisdiction in matters that concern multiple provinces.

By granting importance to these protestors in order to continue his image as the progressive politician, he initially gained some success. However, the irony of the situation was not lost on the public. At the provincial level, the British Colombia Government (Which was being governed by the NDP — New Democratic Party) was opposed to the pipeline based on concerns about the environmental impact and First Nations people. The neighbouring province, Alberta, which was also governed by the NDP was outwardly supporting the pipeline due to economic concerns — Oil is a major economic contributor to the economy of Alberta and to Canada through its equalisation payments. The economic and political situation reached a peak when the Canadian Government acquired the pipeline for $4.5 Billion. They did not actually acquire a physical pipeline, instead they bought the rights to build a pipeline. The ‘Right’ was delayed by the courts due to lack of consultation with the First Nations groups.

The elections in Alberta in 2019, resulted a change in government from the NDP to the United Conservative party, largely due to the more aggressive Pro-Natural Gas position of the Premier Jason Kenney. The crisis also became a focal point in the Federal Election in October 2019, where the Liberals lost seats but remained in power (A Minority Government). The Liberals failed to gain any seats in three of the Canada’s ten provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba). The crisis — since the pipeline is still in a state of a limbo — is only growing. Recently the growing protest have gotten more confrontational. Protestors are physically blocking train, in order to “force a conversation” about reconciliation, environmentalism, and justice.

This has placed the Trudeau government in a precarious position. Fanning the protestors’ flames will boost Trudeau’s political capital amongst supporters, while on the other hand, it will be detrimental to the path already initiated by the government. By acquiring the rights to the pipeline, the Trudeau government has inextricably tied themselves to the future profits generated by it. In fact, the BC government had, after reviewing the economic report on the pipeline, approved it in principle, as it meet five main conditions. One of which is an annual $1 billion revenue sharing agreement with the federal government. However, the change in the provincial government resulted in a reversal of this policy. As Trudeau’s government is already in a minority, and it’s potential ally the NDP (which strongly prefers a Trudeau government over any possible conservative government — and is low on cash for a potential election campaign) demands a more environmentalist approach to the pipeline situation. The Trudeau government will have to walk a thin line between its words and actions in order to remain in power.

The longer the crisis remains “unresolved” more political gain can be extracted from the situation than if the crisis get fully “resolved”. With an “unresolved crisis” the Trudeau government can masterfully — as they have done before — blame other parties for being anti-environmentalist and anti-science, and strongly imply a level of inhumanity, while positioning themselves as the kinder, more humanitarian and progressive party. If the crisis is “resolved”, there are two possible outcomes. Either the pipeline will be built, or the whole project will be canceled. If the pipeline were built, it would be betraying the ‘progressive’ and ‘environmentalist’ platform and position that Trudeau has created for himself and, by extension, his chances of re-election will take a blow. If the pipeline does not get built, then Trudeau would be betraying the economy of the ‘western provinces’. With talks of a WeExit, this would surely hurt Trudeau in an election.

On the federal level, the conservative party is in a position to gain power, as long as they can elect a likeable candidate with a concrete set of ideas as their next leader. The Andrew Sheer (Current leader of the conservative party) platform of middle ground rhetoric where he attempted to cater to everyone’s needs but fail to convince anyone he was actually serious compromised the conservatives in the previous election where they were in a good position to win. The only way Trudeau would come out of this ‘successfully’ would be to drag out the crisis as much as possible while in the end building the pipeline. This would allow the government to position themselves as thorough and complete in their approach to the crisis. One thing is for certain, the Trudeau government dug their own grave.

I write on politics, economics, data science and history; all views are my own.

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