In 1879, Leonard Tilley said of a young Canada, “The time has arrived when we are to decide whether we will be simply hewers of wood and drawers of water.” On Sept. 27, Catherine McKenna, the federal minister of environment and climate change, approved the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in B.C. This is the sort of project that perpetuates our nation’s role as a colonial source of raw resources for more advanced nations. It is also the sort of project which adds to the mounting infeasibility of meeting our obligations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate change agreement – obligations which McKenna herself had a hand in crafting.
From the time the forests of the Maritime provinces were denuded to create masts for British ships, to the present destruction of the virgin boreal forest of Northern Alberta to extract bitumen, Canada has made its wealth by extracting and selling raw resources. This is a recipe for fast money and long-term poverty. Once natural resources are depleted, the communities that extracted them are left economically stranded. Just take a look at Atlantic Canada and the collapse of the cod industry.
The various pipelines being built or proposed are meant to ship raw petroleum products out of Canada to refineries in other countries. Canada’s role in this amounts to simply digging holes and selling what we find. Along the way, Canada bears the risk of any environmental disasters that result from shipping these products across our vast and rugged landscape. Canada also bears responsibility for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created by these projects. The LNG terminal will increase our yearly national output of carbon by an estimated 0.75 per cent; it will be one of the single largest emitters in the country.
On April 22 of this year, Prime Minister Trudeau signed the Paris climate change agreement, saying “Canada’s efforts will not cease […] Climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion, and our will. But we are equal to that challenge.”
There is no intelligence in approving projects that will increase the very emissions we are committed to reducing. There is no compassion in shifting the burden of fighting climate change to future governments and generations of Canadians, in exchange for a short-term boost in jobs and foreign capital. And there is a notable lack of will on the part of this government to make hard choices about the balance between our backwards, extraction-based economy and a sustainable future.
On voicing my distress over the approval of this project to a Conservative friend, her trite response was, “You should have voted for Harper.”
That’s a hard pill to swallow, but at least you can say one thing of Harper: he didn’t pretend to be something he wasn’t. He was fine with Canada’s main role on the global stage being as fossil-fuel extractor and made no secret that his government saw the environmental damage done along the way was of no concern. The same cannot be said of McKenna and Trudeau. They lie through their teeth about their commitment to fighting climate change – and just recently adopted, without modification or improvement, the Harper government’s lax GHG emission reduction targets.
Continuing on the present course of approving new pipelines, terminals, and other heavy-emitting industrial projects, we can look forward to the day when we fail to meet even the goals of which McKenna herself once said, “Yes, that will be the floor, but certainly we want to try to do better.”