For over two weeks, our country and our economy have been paralyzed by protests and illegal blockades. Transportation networks for Canadian goods, services, and people are at a standstill; over 1500 employees have lost their jobs, while shortages of home heating oil, propane, and chlorine for water treatment jeopardize the health and safety of Canadians across the country. The Government’s vague and inconsistent response has not only failed to resolve the issue but allowed it to escalate with no end in sight.
To understand the current situation it is important to outline the context and events that led to this point. The Coastal GasLink is a project to build 670km of pipeline to carry natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, BC where it will be exported to Asian markets. It will take approximately four years to build, create 2500 jobs and contribute in excess of $42 million in direct economic benefits to British Columbia, and an even greater amount in indirect benefits to the national economy. The project will positively contribute to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by delivering natural gas to China enabling them to transition away from coal. Natural gas produces about half the carbon emissions of coal and China accounts for half of the world’s coal consumption.
Dec 31 2019, British Columbia’s Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction calling for the removal of any obstructions on the land the company had been authorized to use. In response, a few Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs of the unceded territory served Coastal GasLink an eviction notice stating that workers were “trespassing” on unceded territory. Shortly after, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs agreed to meet with the province of BC to de-escalate the situation however, these talks were unsuccessful.
The position of the few hereditary chiefs of the unceded territory is in sharp contrast to the majority of hereditary chiefs, Wet’suwet’en people and all elected band council members who support the Coastal GasLink project. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Theresa Tait-Day stated “in the case of Coastal GasLink, 85% of our people said yes, we want this project.”
Despite the stated support, the situation has escalated to become a national crisis. Protestors, apparently in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, have barricaded railway lines and demonstrated at key landmarks across the country. Via Rail was forced to stop all passenger travel service between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Barricades blocked CN rail traffic in Toronto and Montreal and commuter train service on the Exo Candiac line, as well as all transport between Prince George and Prince Rupert, BC and shortly after CN rail shut down all operations in Eastern Canada.
The courts have ruled these blockades illegal, issuing injunctions many that have yet to be enforced. The economic impact is widespread and significant. Manufacturers rely on 4500 rail cars a day to get their goods to market and lose millions every day the rail is not operating. Grain farmers lose $50 million every week they are unable to ship their grain. Ships carrying goods to Canada are being diverted to the US as our ports reach maximum capacity. The stability and security of our trade network hangs in the balance, risking present and future exchange.
Canada was founded on the tenets of peace, order and good government. At the center of our democracy is the trust and confidence that the government will equally and justly apply the rule of law. Canadians have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of protest, but they do not have the right to break the law, completely shut down Canada’s economy and prevent Canadians from going to work.
This federal government has abrogated that responsibility. They have allowed our nation to become fractured along political and regional lines, pitted industry against industry and groups of people against other groups. This Prime Minister stands idle as our nation tears itself apart from within, at a time when we are witnessing even greater threats to our unity and prosperity from outside our borders. Only with the completion of big nation building projects that leverage every strength of every region across the country will Canada maintain the vibrancy it has enjoyed in the past. It will take courage, unity, and strong federal leadership to position Canada for that future.
Originally published in the Auroran newspaper