TRANS MOUN­TAIN TRANSGRESSION

Is Justin Trudeau’s pur­chase of Kin­der Mor­gan’s pipe­line ex­pan­sion project re­ally in the na­tional in­ter­est? By ARND JURGENSEN

NOW Magazine - - NEWSFRONT -

Be­fore the 2015 elec­tion, Green Party leader Elizabeth May as­sured us that, un­like his pre­de­ces­sor, Justin Trudeau “gets cli­mate change.” Does he? Do we? Dur­ing the con­tro­versy over the ex­pan­sion of the Kin­der Mor­gan pipe­line, our prime min­is­ter’s main in­ter­ven­tion in the dis­pute be­tween Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia has been to as­sert that the ex­pan­sion must and will hap­pen be­cause it is in the “na­tional in­ter­est.” This assertion has not been a means of start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion but rather of end­ing one.

Amid claims that the coun­try must be able to get its re­sources to mar­ket, Trudeau has not ex­plained why Al­berta’s in­ter­est in de­vel­op­ing the tar sands trumps Bri­tish Columbia’s in­ter­est in main­tain­ing the coastal en­vi­ron­ment it de­pends on for its fish­eries and tourism in­dus­tries.

So Al­berta’s in­ter­ests co­in­cide with the na­tional in­ter­est but Bri­tish Columbia’s do not. It is im­per­a­tive that Cana­di­ans care­fully ex­am­ine this claim be­fore en­dors­ing the ex­pan­sion, let alone agree­ing to use tax­payer dol­lars to buy it.

A good start­ing point is to ex­am­ine the very idea of na­tional in­ter­est as it has been used through the cen­turies by “re­al­ists” in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. To them, the na­tional in­ter­est is an ex­is­ten­tial strug­gle for sur­vival that forces lead­ers to act quickly or else they will lose out to those who do.

If un­der­stood in this man­ner, the na­tional in­ter­est must trump all other con­sid­er­a­tions. All this, of course, makes it very tempt­ing for any­one to claim that their par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est co­in­cides with the na­tional in­ter­est, and any­one who op­poses the na­tional in­ter­est is trea­sonous by im­pli­ca­tion.

iN What Way caN trudeau claim that the Na­tiONal iN­ter­est ap­plies tO the traNs mOuN­taiN pipe­liNe ex­paN­siON?

He is cor­rect in assert­ing the na­tional in­ter­est if he means that our col­lec­tive in­ter­ests as Cana­di­ans should su­per­sede the par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests of prov­inces. That is what sovereignty means, and the idea that prov­inces should have veto power over what they can and can’t ex­port is prob­lem­atic.

How­ever, this is not what the B.C. govern­ment is try­ing to do. They are in­ter­ested in pro­tect­ing the rights of In­dige­nous groups within their ju­ris­dic­tion and their en­vi­ron­ment more gen­er­ally, to which pipelines and oil tankers pose an un­de­ni­able threat.

This con­flict points to the weakly de­fined na­ture of Cana­dian federalism, which cer­tainly could use some clar­i­fi­ca­tion. But what is the Cana­dian na­tional in­ter­est in Kin­der Mor­gan’s ex­pan­sion plans?

While all sorts of in­ter­ests may af- fect Cana­di­ans, not all of these things af­fect our na­tional in­ter­est. To rise to that level the is­sue must in some way re­late to a po­ten­tial threat to our sur­vival as a state and so­ci­ety. What kind of threats to our sur­vival should unite us in this sense?

Besides nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion (and it’s hard to see how ex­port­ing tar sands oil plays a role in pro­tect­ing us from that) we face one ex­is­ten­tial threat above all oth­ers: cli­mate change.

This is a threat shared by all hu­man­ity, not just Cana­di­ans, and quite dif­fer­ent from the threats those “re­al­ists” have in mind, which are mostly other states, not en­vi­ron­men­tal col­lapse.

What pOli­cies cOuld prO­tect caNa­di­aNs frOm this ex­is­teN­tial threat tO hu­maN­ity?

Re­duc­ing our con­sump­tion of fos­sil fuels, of which we are per capita among the most glut­tonous users on the planet, would be a start. But as a tiny per­cent­age of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, that wouldn’t make much dif­fer­ence. The only pol­icy by which Canada can make a mean­ing­ful im­pact on this threat is to de­clare that all fos­sil fuels un­der Cana­dian ter­ri­tory will stay in the ground (and to pres­sure other states to fol­low suit).

To make such a dec­la­ra­tion in Al­berta is po­lit­i­cal sui­cide, but we are not all Al­ber­tans (and not all Al­ber­tans de­pend on or sup­port the oil in­dus­try). In fact, only a very small per­cent­age of Cana­di­ans de­pend di­rectly and in­di­rectly on the oil in­dus­try for em­ploy­ment.

Claims that what’s good for the oil sec­tor is good for all Cana­di­ans are not new. But they ig­nore what has been termed the “re­source curse” in places like Nige­ria or Venezuela, where the dom­i­nance of their oil in­dus­tries have seen all of their other in­dus­tries in­clud­ing agri­cul­ture wither away.

Many On­tar­i­ans are aware that when the oil in­dus­try booms in Al­berta, man­u­fac­tur­ing in On­tario suf­fers from the higher ex­change rate on the loonie, which un­der­mines non-oil ex­ports.

But to get back to the larger pic­ture, what’s a greater threat to the av­er­age Cana­dian (or cit­i­zen of any coun­try): los­ing their job or the desta­bi­liza­tion of vast ar­eas of the world by drought, ex­treme weather and the re­sult­ing flood of en­vi­ron­men­tal refugees?

Col­lec­tive in­ter­est in the sur­vival of this planet in a rec­og­niz­able form not only su­per­sedes any na­tional in­ter­est but de­fines the na­tional in­ter­est of all coun­tries. It is time that world lead­ers, in­clud­ing our prime min­is­ter, rec­og­nize this re­al­ity. Arnd Jurgensen teaches in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of Toronto. news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Besides nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion, we face one ex­is­ten­tial threat above all oth­ers: cli­mate change

#Burn­abyMoun­tain rally in Toronto in 2014 in sol­i­dar­ity with ac­tivists in BC who were block­ing Kin­der Mor­gan’s Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion.

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