Cross­ing Lines

In Manitoba, a strug­gle to unite against Canada’s quiet pipe­line

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Josiah Neufeld

On a thaw­ing evening in early March, around a hun­dred peo­ple crowd into a high-ceilinged church hall in Mor­den, Manitoba, a town known for hard­work­ing Men­non­ite farm­ers and fos­silized aquatic rep­tiles. Even be­fore the Men­non­ite pas­tor in­tro­duces the evening’s dis­cus­sion topic with a note of ner­vous hu­mour — “What could pos­si­bly go wrong?” — a cur­rent of ten­sion ed­dies un­der the small talk as peo­ple pour them­selves black cof­fee and file past a ta­ble stacked with hand­bills urg­ing them to “STOP the LINE 3 PIPE­LINE!” In ru­ral Manitoba, an is­sue that’s been un­der­ground for fifty years is com­ing to the sur­face. Cal­gary-based En­bridge Inc. has em­barked on a $9 bil­lion project to re­place nearly all of Line 3, a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing 1,765-kilo­me­tre pipe­line that car­ries crude oil from the Al­berta oil sands across the prairies to a ter­mi­nal in Su­pe­rior, Wis­con­sin. In 2017, En­bridge be­gan laying new pipe­line along­side the old, which is to be drained and sealed off. The weak­en­ing, fifty-year-old pipe­line has been op­er­at­ing at just over half its orig­i­nal ca­pac­ity of 760,000 bar­rels per day since 2010, and crit­ics stress that the re­place­ment will nearly dou­ble the amount of crude flow­ing through Line 3 to US re­finer­ies. In Canada and the United States, pipe­lines have be­come arenas for con­flict, pit­ting en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and In­dige­nous peo­ples against the oil-and-gas in­dus­try, with politi­cians caught in the mid­dle. Like Ther­mopy­lae — the rocky coastal pass where Greek forces held off ten times the num­ber of in­vad­ing Per­sians — a pipe­line of­fers a strate­gic bot­tle­neck where rel­a­tively small groups can do bat­tle with pow­er­ful en­ergy cor­po­ra­tions to im­pede the ex­trac­tion of fos­sil fu­els. Their strate­gies can be ef­fec­tive. In Novem­ber 2016, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau ap­proved two pipe­lines in the same breath: Line 3’s re­place­ment and an ex­pan­sion of Kin­der Mor­gan’s Trans Moun­tain line be­tween Ed­mon­ton and the BC coast. By this spring, the lat­ter had turned into a na­tional show­down, with Justin Trudeau and Al­berta premier Rachel Not­ley on one side threat­en­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions and leg­isla­tive force in sup­port of Trans Moun­tain, and First Na­tions, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, and the gov­ern­ments of BC and Van­cou­ver on the other vow­ing to fight the pipe­line on land and in the courts. In early March, thou­sands protested on Burn­aby Moun­tain; more than 150 peo­ple were ar­rested for acts of civil disobe­di­ence. Mean­while, Line 3 has snaked its way unim­peded across the prairies. When it is com­plete — pos­si­bly as soon as next year — the pipe­line will have four­fifths of the af­ter-up­grade ca­pac­ity of Trans Moun­tain and tra­verse 500 more kilo­me­tres of wet­lands and vul­ner­a­ble ecosys­tems, but it hasn’t be­come a po­lit­i­cal light­ning rod. The fa­mil­iar bat­tle lines have not formed in Manitoba. The Prairie prov­inces don’t share BC’S cul­ture of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism; all three have gov­ern­ments that sup­port oil-and-gas de­vel­op­ment. While pro­test­ers in Burn­aby were or­ga­niz­ing for a week of rallies and block­ades, farm­ers in Mor­den were sip­ping cof­fee in a church and lob­bing ques­tions at the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who had come to try to per­suade them that this pipe­line up­grade was a bad idea.

As the late­com­ers find their seats in the gym­na­sium, Laura Cameron, a soft-spo­ken mas­ter’s stu­dent in In­dige­nous gov­er­nance at the Uni­ver­sity of Win­nipeg, sets the stakes: “Our reliance on fos­sil fu­els is putting us on a track which is in­creas­ingly

It’s harder to rally peo­ple around a threat to hu­man­ity than one that en­dan­gers their own back­yard.

risky,” she says. “We can’t keep go­ing in this way, be­cause our chil­dren and their chil­dren won’t have a hab­it­able cli­mate, they re­ally won’t.” The gath­er­ing is the sec­ond of two town hall meet­ings or­ga­nized by a Win­nipeg-based en­vi­ron­men­tal group, Manitoba En­ergy Jus­tice Coali­tion. To pre­pare for the meet­ings, or­ga­niz­ers vis­ited sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties along Line 3 and talked to church lead­ers, or­ganic farm­ers, and oth­ers who might be sym­pa­thetic to their cause. The pre­vi­ous night’s meet­ing drew about thirty-five peo­ple to a com­mu­nity cen­tre in Gretna, a ham­let land­marked by the white cylin­dri­cal tanks of an En­bridge pump­ing sta­tion. For decades, En­bridge has been pump­ing oil un­der these coun­try roads and crops. It’s a re­al­ity that few peo­ple in the rest of Canada no­tice and even fewer think they have rea­son to fear. Af­ter Cameron fin­ishes, Gerry De­mare, a mem­ber of the Manitoba Pipe­line Landown­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and a farmer who al­ready has pipe­lines un­der his fields, speaks up to down­play the ef­fi­cacy of “civil disobe­di­ence,” though there has been no real talk of it up to this point. Another man, with close­cropped white hair and blue jeans, stands up to add that a short­age of pipe­lines means more oil trav­el­ling by train and thus less rail space for farm­ers to ship their grain. “Oil is ob­vi­ously go­ing to be trans­ported, be­cause we as a cul­ture con­tinue to use it pretty heav­ily,” vol­un­teers another man. “Wind doesn’t move my car very well,” adds some­one else. In this part of the world, oil pipe­lines are largely seen as a pub­lic good that trans­ports a re­source ev­ery­one needs. Cameron looks har­ried, but she an­swers her in­ter­roga­tors calmly, al­ways steer­ing back to­ward the ne­ces­sity of tran­si­tion­ing away from fos­sil fu­els. David Scott, a treaty and Abo­rig­i­nal his­to­rian and a mem­ber of nearby Swan Lake First Na­tion, speaks next. He ex­plains that af­ter En­bridge inked a deal with Swan Lake’s chief and coun­cil to al­low the Line 3 ex­pan­sion to go through, his com­mu­nity learned of a decades-old oil spill ad­ja­cent to the re­serve. The lack of dis­clo­sure an­gered Scott, who says he doesn’t trust En­bridge. In­dige­nous peo­ple have been at the fore­front of suc­cess­ful pipe­line chal­lenges in Canada, but many In­dige­nous lead­ers on the Prairies have their hands full with im­me­di­ate is­sues, in­clud­ing on-re­serve poverty and a bro­ken child-wel­fare sys­tem, and aren’t in po­si­tions to refuse of­fers of cash, jobs, or spon­sored com­mu­nity cen­tres. En­bridge se­cured fifty-three agree­ments with In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties along and near Line 3, of­fer­ing train­ing, em­ploy­ment, and other ben­e­fits. Scott is re­signed to Line 3 go­ing ahead, but he still calls for greater scru­tiny. Some Manitoba lead­ers did speak in op­po­si­tion. In 2016, Derek Nepinak, for­mer grand chief of the As­sem­bly of Manitoba Chiefs, ini­ti­ated a court chal­lenge to Line 3 ar­gu­ing En­bridge failed to con­sult Manitoba First Na­tions in a mean­ing­ful way. But Nepinak was a lone voice, and the AMC dropped the case last year, a few months af­ter he left of­fice. As the pas­tor in Mor­den takes the mi­cro­phone to close the evening, Crys­tal Greene, an In­dige­nous en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cate based in Win­nipeg who spent sev­eral months at the Stand­ing Rock protests in North Dakota, rises at the back of the room, strides to the front, and seizes the mi­cro­phone. “I know you guys don’t see peo­ple who look like me, and you guys prob­a­bly have all kinds of stereo­types run­ning through your head,” she says. “But I want to let you know that I just came back from Min­nesota, where peo­ple are stand­ing up to En­bridge Line 3 and they are will­ing to put their lives on the line.” Some in at­ten­dance rise to leave. Oth­ers fold their arms and glance un­com­fort­ably over their shoul­ders. Af­ter the meet­ing in Mor­den, Greene took to Face­book to scold lo­cal In­dige­nous

lead­ers for sign­ing agree­ments with En­bridge, writ­ing: “To the cor­po­rate sell­outs, you can­not speak with a forked tongue about be­ing a stew­ard of the earth and at the same time sell-out to En­bridge.” The Manitoba Métis Fed­er­a­tion signed a multi-mil­lion-dol­lar agree­ment with En­bridge en­sur­ing em­ploy­ment and skills train­ing for Métis work­ers on Line 3, ac­cord­ing to APTN. “We sup­port pipe­lines as an eco­nomic strat­egy on a sus­tain­able ba­sis,” MMF leader David Char­trand told the news out­let last fall. “It’s up to the grass­roots peo­ple now,” Greene con­cluded her post. But so far only two Win­nipeg-based grass­roots groups are ac­tively cam­paign­ing against Line 3: the Manitoba En­ergy Jus­tice Coali­tion and the Stu­dent Pipe­line Ac­tion Com­mit­tee. When the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ap­proved Trans Moun­tain and Line 3, it also can­celled En­bridge’s North­ern Gate­way Pipe­lines project, which would have car­ried oil to a ship­ping port in Kiti­mat, BC. The de­ci­sion came af­ter years of pub­lic rallies and court chal­lenges from acoali­tion of First Na­tions in BC. Af­ter fight­ing for the right to con­trol their wa­ter­ways for decades, coastal First Na­tions were weigh­ing the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits to their economies against the po­ten­tial cat­a­strophic con­se­quences of an oil spill. Their wa­ter­ways, rain­forests, and fish­eries were at stake. Sim­i­lar is­sues are pro­pel­ling the cur­rent bat­tle against Trans Moun­tain. But Line 3 isn’t per­ceived to threaten com­mu­ni­ties as di­rectly. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in south­ern Manitoba are await­ing the in­flux of busi­ness from pipe­line work­ers, while ac­tivists are try­ing to sig­nal how Line 3 would con­trib­ute to cli­mate change. The un­sur­pris­ing irony is that it’s harder to rally peo­ple around a risk that threat­ens all of hu­man­ity than one that could en­dan­ger their own back­yard. To win over the crowd in Mor­den and else­where along Line 3, ac­tivists will need a dif­fer­ent tem­plate from the Ther­mopy­lae model that’s fuelling ac­tivism on the coast. Here, a move­ment with enough strength to halt a pipe­line would re­quire a broad coali­tion of forces and a lo­cal nar­ra­tive that could cut across ide­o­log­i­cal di­vides and speak to peo­ple’s im­me­di­ate con­cerns. A few years ago, one such story worked. Shoal Lake 40 First Na­tion, 140 kilo­me­tres east of Win­nipeg, had been con­fined to an is­land and, for more than two decades, had been un­der a boil-wa­ter ad­vi­sory. The com­mu­nity suc­ceeded in ral­ly­ing Win­nipeg­gers of all stripes around this his­toric in­jus­tice. Ac­tivists and church­go­ers signed pe­ti­tions and protested on the leg­is­la­ture steps un­til three lev­els of gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted to build­ing a road and a bridge. It was a grass­roots cam­paign led by savvy ac­tivists with few re­sources be­yond cre­ativ­ity and chutz­pah. But it took years. The ac­tivists in south­ern Manitoba don’t have that kind of time. While Canada roils with pipe­line con­tro­versy, Line 3 is merely mak­ing rip­ples in a few em­phat­i­cally raised cof­fee mugs. Mean­while, shiny new pipes are stacked and wait­ing be­tween Win­kler and Mor­den. By the end of the sum­mer, Canada’s forgotten pipe­line may be out of sight and out of mind. josiah neufeld is a Win­nipeg-based writer whose work has ap­peared in the Globe and Mail, Ha­zlitt, and Utne Reader. He last wrote for The Wal­rus in 2016 about lgbtq rights and the Men­non­ite faith.

Left En­bridge Inc. is up­grad­ing a 1,765-kilo­me­tre­long pipe­line that runs from Al­berta to Wis­con­sin.

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