Denis Rancourt is a physicist, environmental scientist, and civil rights advocate. He is a researcher for the Ontario Civil Liberties Association. He expressed his opinion about Trudeau purchase of Trans Mountain pipeline.
Sputnik: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh once said that abandoning of the Trans-Mountain pipeline would be “a condition of the NDP supporting a Liberal minority government”. In your opinion, why does the Trudeau government support this project, given that their position on environmental protection is in many ways similar to that of NDP or any left-wing politician?
Denis Rancourt: First, we must discern the noise and posturing of electoral politics, and the reality of a nation with an economy, with inter-regional conflicts, with obligations to aboriginal peoples, with federal-provincial constitutional jurisdictional battles, with legal liabilities towards foreign investors, arising from investment treaties, and with strategic ambitions for stability, growth and resilience in a determinedly changing world.
On the one hand, there is the superficial fodder intended to manipulate voters, which is tied to the overarching media narratives of the day. This disingenuous “political discourse” is a liability for the nation on two counts: It obscures and diverts attention away from reality, and it makes the country vulnerable to propaganda funded by foreign and domestic elite interests, via lobbyists, research institutes, non-government organizations, and foundations.
I would put “climate change” squarely in the superficial-fodder category — not actual toxic environmental pollution or habitat destruction — but the so-called “climate change” or “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” premised on humanity being imminently at risk from CO2 emissions.
While, on the other hand, there are the unspoken realities of emergent geopolitical and geo-economic transformations. These realities are the determinative international context of the Canadian pipeline saga. The USA’s response to two global tectonic shifts, in particular, has a defining impact on Canada.
The first global tectonic shift is the rise of Eurasia, economically led by China and supported by Russia, to which the USA is responding aggressively, which drives Eurasia to consolidate its own economic region, while avoiding liabilities from trade in USA dollars with USA-controlled national economies, including Australia, Canada, and much of the Western world.
The second global tectonic shift is the increased global abundance of easily extractable fossil-fuel reserves. Shale-oil is everywhere, as is natural gas, and China can secure coal enough to ensure its continued development for many generations. There is oil and gas in Venezuela, Russia, Syria, Iran… Canada, USA… more places than the USA can easily control to starve competitors, to ensure high prices exclusively for USA-allied producers, and to keep the petrodollar alive as the USA’s main instrument of economic coercion; all of which is the USA response. In addition, the USA is willing to harm its “allies” for relative economic gain. The Breton Woods era is a distant historical footnote.
To secure its own international prominence, its own development, and its national cohesion, Canada must bring its massive but land-locked Alberta oil reserves to diversified markets. When the only client is the USA, via the Keystone pipeline system, then the price is determined by the client and Canada thus subsidizes the USA economy. Furthermore, USA foundations, tied to USA oil and financial interests, have funded large pipeline-vilification propaganda campaigns in Canada, which dovetail into the international “climate change” and carbon-economy drive spearheaded by the large Western-based global finance complex allied to the Democrats in the USA.
In the language of pipelines, all this means that Canada must either ensure access to diversified markets, using large transport infrastructure development for Alberta oil, or continue to die a slow death as an appendage to the USA.
In this global energy context — with USA “America first” aggressiveness, and in the Canadian domestic context of pipeline opposition, including a court ruling undoing a pipeline mega-contract because the aboriginal land-claimants had not sufficiently been consulted — the previous owner of the Trans Mountain pipeline, Kinder Morgan, sought to abandon construction at less than half of the project’s completion. Trudeau stepped in and bought Trans Mountain for some $5-billion, knowing that completion would costs at least an additional $7-billion. This clarified what Trudeau meant by “infrastructure investment” when he was first elected in 2015.
With Trudeau’s purchase, Canada directly ensures the pipeline project, and saves private investors from the high-risk of financing mega-infrastructure, while it plans to sell the completed infrastructure, with conditions attached. Furthermore, the federal ownership goes a long way towards overriding jurisdictional opposition from the coastal province of British Columbia, imposes federal controls on Alberta, and ensures paternalistic “fair play” towards the aboriginal peoples, in the hands of a Liberal government having an image of human rights and environmentalism.
The then Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley (NDP) reacted to Ottawa’s purchase by saying: “This is the most certainty that this project has ever had … By purchasing the project, the federal government now has the power to make sure that it goes ahead.” And Notley added that “Crown immunity” limits the degree to which provincial objections apply. (So much for the NDP actually believing that there is a “climate emergency”.)
Of course, there is constant noise about the financial-maintenance cost of Canada’s $5-billion investment, but that is ancillary to the move.
Trans Mountain is part of what might be called Canada’s emergent and unifying “little silk road initiative”, which is expected to include an eastward pipeline and transportation of Quebec hydro-electricity, in-effect modelled on China’s “socialistic” success of the Eurasian “Belt and Road Initiative”.
Actual capitalism including private risk never existed anyway, for large nation-building infrastructure projects in Canada. The pipeline is tiny compared to existing Canadian road, rail, airway, and waterway infrastructure.
Regarding your point about Jagmeet Singh, we can’t know the secret agreements made in this minority government. No doubt the NDP will apply leverage using “climate” to obtain moral or social-justice victories, but to take down the government over the pipeline expansion would be certain political suicide, and a real mess for the country. Everyone understands this.
Sputnik: The controversial Bill C-69 was criticized for many reasons, one of which is discouraging investment in Canadian pipelines. How will C-69 affect the pipeline building industry, especially the Trans Mountain Pipeline?
Denis Rancourt: Bill C-69 “An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts”, is a statutory consolidation intended to facilitate Canada’s building of Trans Mountain, and similar projects, in a manner that projects an image of Liberal fairness, environmental consciousness, and aboriginal consultation, while increasing the federal legal-posture regarding provincial constitutional jurisdictions and aboriginal land-claim complexities, for energy transportation corridors.
Bill C-69 is the statutory framework that the Liberals will ride in building Trans Mountain. The public and the courts will thereby be informed that the project is environmental, respectful of aboriginal rights, jurisdictionally sound, and safe. It is an example of constitutional stretching and goodness propaganda by statute.
Ultimately, it is the advancement and completion of Trans Mountain that will have resource-extraction investors lining up, if the international-trade conditions are favourable, not the language of the infrastructure-enabling statute that is Bill C-69.
Sputnik: One of the primary objectives of Bill C-69 was to protect the environment. How much do you think this initiative will enhance the safety of pipelines?
Denis Rancourt: Pipelines are already inherently safe compared to rail and seaway transportation, so there is not a lot of room to “enhance their safety”. The main spills in Trans Mountain have been due to accidents that can be avoided, and have been contained spills. No one wants costly and damaging spills. Therefore, the oversights against bad construction, unmaintained ageing, and accidents from adjacent or neighbouring unrelated industrial activity, are generally good and were consolidated and improved in Bill C-69. For comparison, consider the enormous public safety and environmental liabilities associated with roads and highways, which are not in the media lens.
Sputnik: In the previous interview you’ve highlighted that pipeline leakages and spills are a common case and do not harm the environment. Why, then, possible leaks are one of the main arguments of opponents of the construction of TM?
Denis Rancourt: To be precise, in the previous interview, I said: “All pipelines can leak, just as any transport can leak. Pipeline spills are smaller than supertanker spills, and spills on land disperse much more slowly than spills on water.”
Potential spills are one of the main arguments of opponents of pipelines because the image of an oil spill, in the public’s mind, derives from the media and documentary-film reports of the past major coastal supertanker and drilling-platform spills that devastated the coastal environments in those areas for many years.
By comparison, the land-based exploitations of Alberta are safe against spills compared to an ocean drilling-platform, but devastate the extraction area during extraction. Supertankers are vulnerable when they navigate near or along the coast, and the damage is highly dependent on the weather conditions during and following the spill. Pipelines themselves simply do not have these types of mega-vulnerabilities.
Sputnik: The Liberals failed to win a seat in either Alberta or Saskatchewan the main oil-developing provinces. The party received just 13.7% of the vote in Alberta and 11.6% in Saskatchewan. Do you think that Trudeau will have the opportunity to somehow establish relations with these regions or will tensions or even separatist moods only grow?
Denis Rancourt: The separatist mood, known as “Wexit” in the media, is partly due to partisan manipulation of public sentiment, but is mostly caused by real downturn in the provincial economies, in terms of impact on jobs and communities.
The way to pull the country together is to pull the country together. Trans Mountain is intended to achieve this by revitalizing the energy sector and by federal coordination and balancing of provincial and aboriginal interests. Vote shares in elections fluctuate widely and respond to the circumstances that prevail. Alberta’s previous government was NDP. Much of Wexit is simply an expression of frustration. It can grow if things continue without resolution, and it can dissipate with an upturn in economic vitality. Trudeau will never be loved, but he can be respected. His present supporters love him more than they respect him. Respect could be earned by a successful Trans Mountain.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.