Winter of Their Discontent

While Albertans were grabbing the keys to the truck and hitting the convoy road. The folks in British Columbia were in protest mode too. The pipeline slated to serve a $40 billion natural gas liquefaction plant on the coast that will link Dawson Creek to Kitimat, was stalled.  

Protesters in Smithers

Remember back in October, Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan celebrated this big investment. Trudeau, smarting from the criticism that Canada could not do big projects said, “It is a vote of confidence in a country that recognizes the need to develop our energy in a way that takes the environment into account, and that works in meaningful partnership with Indigenous people.”

Oops! Whoa! Hold the phones! Some members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation around Burns Lake, Houston and Smithers BC are not signed on!  The pipeline company had signed benefit agreements with all 20 Band Councils along its route, then adjusted the route to address Indigenous cultural concerns and finally obtained a court order to remove a couple of blockades. 

“No Soap!” said a small group of hereditary leaders, “We will never agree with the pipeline”.  In a dust up the RCMP moved in and dismantled one of the blockages and arrested 14 protesters. (complete with claims of police brutality).  The Prime Minister said the incident was“not an ideal situation”.

All this mobilized the Indigenous activists.  Small rallies were quickly mounted in Vancouver and Ottawa.  And a convoy disrupted traffic on the Toronto’s 401. Claims were thrown around that the unelected leaders by virtue of lineage were the rightful Indigenous government. The Band Councils were portrayed as the stooges of the colonial powers or just administrators of federal government money!

So severely normal Albertans can expect more protest theatre. David Suzuki and Susan Sarandon are lending their star power and 300 musicians signed on to a letter of support. About $500,000 has been raised to fight the pipeline in Court.

No mention about any plan to reduce poverty for that First Nation. And no news on whether Canada’s Hereditary Leader ( Queen Elisabeth II) plans to intervene too.

But think past the politics for protest for a moment…..The Wetsuwet’un First Nation is a group of communities with a combined population (on reserve) of 1,200. There are even more members who no longer live on reserve, perhaps they left for jobs and education opportunities. It isn’t hard to imagine the dynamic tension between those seeking a better future for themselves and family, and those protecting the land their ancestors lived on for generations.

The hereditary leaders are focused on protecting their territorial sovereignty and perhaps the past way of life against development.  The elected Band Council is more focused on the day to day issues associated with poverty, jobs and education.  In small tight knit communities when outside politics impinge – sides get taken and hostility and grudges last for decades.

And in the meantime, as we spend the winter protesting, Canada’s reputation as a safe place for investment declines still further. TransCanada has put their 75% stake of the project up for sale. And although Coastal Gaslink has regulatory approval from the BC government there is a lawsuit that says it ought to go through the much maligned NEB regulatory regime.