Justin Trudeau

We need courageous leaders, not empty promises and lies

It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Occasionally, a leader has the courage to take controversial action even though there may be enormous political consequences. Unfortunately, most of the time they take the coward’s path.

Legend has it, after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic but highly contentious Civil Rights Act into law on June 2, 1964, he turned to his aide, Bill Moyers (the now famous-PBS TV host), and said, “We have lost the South for a generation.”  Johnson enacted the momentous law despite the inevitable electoral blowback because it was the right thing to do. He knew his simple signature on the transformational law set him on the right side of history. Unfortunately, Johnson’s political prophecy was, if anything, understated. 

Johnson’s civil rights law changed America forever. The law ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The long civil rights struggle we mythologize now — lunch counter sit-ins, boycotts, marches and assassinations – set the stage for Johnson. His signature, along with the one he affixed a year later to the Voting Rights Act, are considered the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement and of his presidency. With the simple swipe of a pen, Johnson set a course that would help improve the lives of millions of people for generations.

Last week, when Prime Minister Trudeau announced his approval of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion, he couldn’t muster President Johnson’s courage to be on the right side of history. Instead, he took the well-traveled coward’s path.

Context is important. The proof of cascading global warming is multiplying daily. Not a week goes by without some new dire announcement showing the scientific modeling has underestimated the pace global warming is happening. Last week it was the news that the Arctic was 31 degrees hotter than normal and sea ice was at an all-time low.  

This is not lost on our boyish Canadian leader. He certainly understands the need for fast and courageous action on climate. You need only look at his statements prior to attending the Paris climate talks last year.

“We’ll demonstrate that we are serious about climate change … This means making decisions based on science…”

Over the last twelve months Trudeau’s modus operandi is becoming clear: he likes to be out front when a few flashy promises will garner headlines, but when the heavy lifting of true leadership is needed, Trudeau caves to the whims of Big Oil, the communist-Chinese government and Big Money donors from Bay Street.

Our “sunny ways” leader has information at his fingertips that shows new pipelines will dramatically increase domestic and global heat-trapping pollution — the math is obvious and unequivocal. Kinder Morgan alone could unlock as much as 162 million tonnes of atmospheric pollution every year, overwhelming many of Trudeau’s much touted climate measures. For instance, phasing out domestic coal-burning power will only drop nation-wide emissions by five million tonnes, and his well-publicized national carbon pricing plan will only reduce our emissions by 18 million tons.  

While the public is understandably confused by misleading press accounts from oil industry executives, lobbyists and lazy politicians claiming a Canadian pipeline bottleneck is hurting our economy, our photogenic leader knows Alberta doesn’t need any new pipelines to ship their bitumen to market. Cabinet documentsindependent studies, and academics all prove Canada has enough pipeline capacity to get current and projected oil to market for a decade or more.

Our Prime Minister also knows claims that selling oil into the Asian market will overcome the much-touted Canadian discount are entirely fictitious. Cabinet documents spell out clearly that the so-called Canadian discount doesn’t exist, and that the lower price for Western Canadian Select (e.g. diluted bitumen and heavy oil) comes from its lower quality and higher cost to transport, not its source. In fact, our celebrity leader should know the United States – our current customer – pays more for heavy oil than either the Asian or European markets. If Trudeau is being properly briefed, he knows zero oil tankers and zero barrels of oil are scheduled to be shipped to Asia, while the oil tankers currently transporting from Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby oil tanker port are all going to California.

Finally, Canada’s freshman leader should be well aware the Chinese market can’t handle diluted bitumen. In fact, China has no refineries equipped to refine heavy bitumen.

Given all this information Trudeau knows — or should know — why then did he approve Kinder Morgan? Because he lacks Lyndon Johnson’s courage to do what’s in the best interest of all Canadians and proudly make the inconvenient choices that would put him on the right side of history.

Not only was his Kinder Morgan approval cowardly, it also broke a fundamental promise that helped him win a majority. Perhaps you’ve seen the video from midway through Trudeau’s campaign when he told Dogwood’s Kai Nagata, “That process needs to be redone,” referring to the Harper government’s broken NEB review process. But what most people don’t know is that before we released that video, Dogwood sent a copy and a link to Trudeau’s press spokesman and asked if this change in position was now “official Liberal party policy?” Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau’s spokesperson wrote back confirming it was official policy. We then e-mailed and asked for clarification on what “redo the review” actually meant. We received a four-page letter from Anna Gainey, President of the Liberal Party of Canada, detailing that, if elected, Trudeau’s government would:

(1) launch an immediate, public review of Canada’s environmental assessment processes;

(2) modernize and rebuild trust in the National Energy Board;

(3) ensure that the Crown is fully executing its consultation, accommodation, and consent obligations on project reviews and assessments, in accordance with its constitutional and international human rights obligations [in partnership with First Nations]; 

(4) understand that governments may be able to issue permits, but only communities can grant permission and a Liberal government will undertake broad consultation with stakeholders and civil society on the issues that matter to them.

So much for promises. Each point we now know was either an outright lie or a sign of how easily Trudeau buckled under the pressure of Big Oil’s money and influence, throwing everyday Canadians like you and I straight under the bus.

Perhaps Trudeau signed the Kinder Morgan approval because his confidants told him it would win his party more seats in Alberta than he’ll lose in British Columbia. Hogwash! Trudeau’s insiders have deluded themselves that the approval will only cost them three B.C. MP seats in the next election. But while both Johnson and Trudeau underestimated the negative impact of their actions on their party’s future, only Johnson had the courage to take bold action anyway.  Recent Dogwood polling found 31 per cent of Trudeau’s voters in B.C. are less likely to vote Liberal again because of the Kinder Morgan approval.

Since our fearful national leader lacked the courage to step onto the right side of history, the people of British Columbia will have to do it for ourselves. We need to summon our resolve to take action against the monumentally stupid approval just as we have every time a reckless and unwanted oil tanker and pipeline scheme has been pushed on us over the last 40 years. While the Prime Minister and his minions may not be brave, I know tens of thousands of British Columbians have the gumption to stand up to Big Oil and their toadies in Ottawa and Edmonton.

It won’t be easy, but with hard work and the willingness to step out of our comfort zone, together we’ll beat Kinder Morgan just like we beat Enbridge.

Oh and Justin, British Columbians will see you in 2019.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau dangerously underestimates British Columbians

Surprises are becoming the norm in recent elections. Last year Rachel Notley swept the NDP to an unprecedented majority in Alberta, then Justin Trudeau vaulted from third place to win a majority government in Ottawa. This year UK voters stunned pundits by voting to leave the EU, then Donald Trump defied the polls to win in the United States.

Is there a common thread in these upset victories (or losses, depending who you were rooting for)?

Columnists and historians will write volumes on why voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania abandoned the Democratic Party and voted for Trump, but I think it’s pretty simple. People rebel when they feel ignored or taken for granted. Clinton lost her chance to form government because angry voters in the so-called flyover states, tired of being neglected by business-as-usual politics in the capital, abandoned her party to send a message: screw you.

Trudeau seemed to be tuned into the Canadian version of this alienation during the federal election, and his promises tapped into the zeitgeist. His first few months in power were impressive, but recently he has acted like just another Ottawa politician – especially when it comes to the interests of big banks and Big Oil.

When Trudeau swept to power many First Nation leaders were euphoric, singing the boyish Prime Minister’s praises. A month after being sworn in, Trudeau was honoured at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations with a traditional blanket ceremony in front of hundreds of Aboriginal leaders. Now, less than a year later, Trudeau is being barred from Tla-o-qui-aht territory and Indigenous leaders like Caleb Behn, Chief Stewart Phillip, and Roland Willson have publicly said they feel betrayed.  

First it was the approval of Site C dam permits, then a massive Malaysian gas plant in the heart of the rich Skeena salmon estuary, then the mishandling of what should have been a minor tug accident in Heiltsuk territory – which turned into a nightmare after 100,000 litres of fuel and oil escaped, poisoning a vital food harvesting area.

Now Robert Davidson, the Haida artist whose Raven design Trudeau lifted for his shoulder tattoo, has said publicly how disappointed he is in the Prime Minister. And the whiplash felt by First Nations leaders could soon spill over to B.C. voters, whose support for political parties is notoriously fickle.

Like folks in flyover America, British Columbians and First Nations are fed up with federal politicians who jet in for a few hours, make promises to get elected and then disappear when the going gets tough. The Heiltsuk, grieving the loss of their fishing grounds, have publicly challenged Trudeau to fly to Bella Bella and fulfill his promise of an oil tanker ban, “in the spirit of reconciliation”. Not only has the PM not responded, but his government is backtracking on other election promises.

If Trudeau pushes through a Kinder Morgan approval this fall, voters in B.C. will feel ignored, lied to and taken for granted; and like voters in flyover America the consequences could be far-reaching. For more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have been using every available tool to signal to Ottawa that we don’t want an expansion of oil tankers in our fragile waters. And for more than a decade, Prime Ministers in Ottawa have patted us on the head, muttered a few platitudes and then put their finger on the scale to push unwanted projects like Enbridge and Kinder Morgan on our unwilling province. We are fed up.

A lot of people thought our new telegenic Prime Minister would follow through on his promises: kill Enbridge, legislate an oil tanker ban on the North Coast, replace the first-past-the-post system, restore integrity to the NEB process and subject Kinder Morgan to a rigorous review.  

More than a year later, rumours abound that each promise will be abandoned or significantly watered down. So how badly has this backtracking tarnished Trudeau’s image in B.C.?

A new province-wide online poll by Insights West shows strong opposition to increased oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s south coast, especially among voters who supported Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the 2015 federal election.

The poll, commissioned by Dogwood, found two-in-five voters in Metro Vancouver (where the majority of Liberal seats in B.C. are located), said they would be less likely to vote Liberal next election if the federal government approves Kinder Morgan’s oil tanker and pipeline project. Fully 31 per cent of Liberal voters say they would be less likely to support Trudeau’s party if the project goes ahead. Overall, two out of three British Columbians remain opposed to oil tanker expansion and 64 per cent of respondents who voted Liberal in 2015 also oppose.

Other key findings should send a chill up Trudeau’s spine if he intends, as rumoured, to approve the controversial proposal:

  • 62 per cent of British Columbians polled agree a Kinder Morgan approval would contradict Prime Minister Trudeau’s promises on climate leadership and a “new relationship” with First Nations. Among Liberal voters in B.C., 58 per cent agree with this assessment.
  • 74 per cent of British Columbians (and 78 per cent of Liberal voters) say they are less likely to support oil tanker expansion when considering the impacts on the South Coast’s 80 resident orca whales.
  • A whopping four in five young voters under 35 in B.C. oppose oil tanker expansion. (Trudeau gave himself the position of Minister for Youth.)

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Trudeau still has a shot to get himself straightened out. To do that, he should be very careful not to emulate Stephen Harper’s hamfisted efforts to shove oil pipelines down British Columbia’s throat.

Back in 2014 when Harper’s cabinet approved Enbridge, we heard the same rationale from the governing party we are hearing now on Kinder Morgan: Enbridge was just another “issue”, and there would be three years for Harper to rebuild trust. A good theory, but in practice Conservative candidates lost almost 150,000 votes in British Columbia (they lost 24 percent of their voters in ridings with Dogwood organizing teams worked in while only losing an average of 1.7 per cent elsewhere in Canada).

What Trudeau and his advisors seem to be missing out West is that the central question for British Columbians remains (as it was for Albertans after Pierre Trudeau tried implementing the infamous National Energy Plan in the ‘80s and ’90s): Who gets to decide what’s in our best interest — Ottawa or the people who live here?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Trudeau’s father also become intoxicated with his own popularity, blundering into a massive overreach that alienated Prairie voters for a generation. Pierre Elliott Trudeau badly miscalculated the consequences of forcing his controversial National Energy Program on an unwilling Alberta. Ironically, in trying to reboot the historically toxic Trudeau brand in Alberta, Justin Trudeau is poised to mirror his father’s mistake, by forcing a controversial oil tanker-pipeline proposal on unwilling British Columbians.

British Columbia may not be literally a “flyover” province, but many residents still feel ignored as the federal government remains fixated on placating Alberta, Quebec and the population centres in Ontario. While most British Columbians are pleased with the post-Harper tone in Ottawa, we are feeling increasingly apart from our capital, and resentful of decisions being imposed on us from afar. The slapdash Kinder Morgan review process, which failed to meet any objective standard of rigour, didn’t help.

Being lied to and taken for granted hurts, doubly so when your expectations have been raised. The rebellion of the ignored masses in flyover America surprised us all, but now is the time for our leaders to learn from the glaring mistakes that have now been made so clear. If Trudeau doesn’t smarten up and reject Kinder Morgan, or at the very least send it back for a proper review like he promised, his supporters will turn on him.

If that happens, Trudeau could become the thing all Prime Ministers fear the most: a one-term wonder.

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