Ah, to go back to the simpler days of last year’s federal election. Justin Trudeau, having campaigned on the promise of rebuilding a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples and “real change” for Canadians, was elected Prime Minister, with his Liberal Party of Canada taking the reigns of parliament for the first time since 2006, when the Conservative Party of Canada won its first minority government.
Yes, those were simpler times. Canadians, so happy to be rid of Stephen Harper, saw the ascension of the second Trudeau as something akin to the second coming. And we’d be lying if we said we weren’t excited as well. The promise of a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples put Canadians in a state of optimism too strong to ignore. ‘This guy will be different,’ many said. ‘Things are going to get better.’
Well, those hopes were dashed last week, as Ottawa granted conditional approval to the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in B.C., with a whopping 190 legally binding conditions, on Sunday, Sept. 27. Seems like it’s business as usual in the House of Commons after all.
The project would move natural gas to B.C.’s coast via pipeline to a terminal on Lelu Island so it could be exported to Asia. It will be one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in Canada, according to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives described it as a “carbon bomb.” And it will be built in close proximity to important spawning grounds for sockeye salmon in the Skeena River.
Despite last year’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report that condemned the state of First Nations relations in Canada, and Trudeau’s very recent promise to follow through on the recommendations of that report, federal and provincial governments continue to reinforce colonial and hegemonic power structures at the expense of Indigenous sovereignty and land preservation.
This is not the first time that the federal government has ignored the voices of Indigenous peoples when it comes to decisions that will directly affect their lands and, in many cases, their livelihoods. B.C. has a storied history of allowing these kinds of economically questionable and environmentally hazardous projects to go through, such as those that affected residents of Kitimat, B.C. In that instance, the Kenney dam was built over the Nechako River to power an aluminum smelter in Kitimat, and ultimately devastated the natural habitat; prime fish habitat was disrupted, and homesteads, village, and burial grounds were flooded and destroyed, not to mention the damage that was done by sulphur emissions from the smelter itself.
More recently, the Site C dam near Fort St. John draws controversy as construction continues despite vocal opposition from local First Nations and environmental activists. The federal government had said in the past that the decision to approve Site C was “handed down” to them by the previous government. But that was exposed as a falsehood when news broke this last summer that the government had granted two federal permits for construction to continue. Like Pacific NorthWest LNG, the Site C dam poses a fundamental risk to both the environment and First Nations in the area, but approval was granted anyway — all in the name of resource development.
On the day of the LNG announcement, Christy Clark said that sometimes “government needs to lead.” That’s a convenient statement in excuse of an act of colonialism, but the last thing Canada needs is another corporate ‘yaas’ man. Clark is right that sometimes the government needs to lead; but Trudeau should remember that he needs to lead in the interests of the people he was elected to serve, not in the interests of capitalist forces.