By Brian Lee Crowley, April 23, 2018
Here is the bad news for those who think the current spat between BC and Alberta over the Trans Mountain pipeline is the final hurdle before the project is completed: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
When all is said and done, BC will eventually have to recognize that it must act within the law – and the law here is firmly on Ottawa’s side. The courts have already made crystal clear that the federal government makes decisions about infrastructure, like pipelines and railways, that crosses provincial boundaries.
Yet, the province of BC isn’t the last obstacle to be overcome on the road to pipeline construction. Even once BC accepts it must obey the law, we still need to deal with the hard line environmental movement. People who are unmoved by arguments based on our legal and constitutional processes by which we resolve disputes and who do not accept that those on the losing end of such arguments must nevertheless respect the democratic process and the rule of law.
It is vital to underline that this is a completely different matter than First Nations’ concerns, which are still being dealt with within the framework of the law as established by the constitution, parliament and the courts. Indigenous concerns, although much more diverse than portrayed in the media, are separate from the thrust of environmental protests.
It is vital to underline that this is a completely different matter than First Nations’ concerns.
Indeed, First Nations that support responsible development and want to use their legitimate power to negotiate a piece of the action have every interest in ensuring that these disputes are settled within the framework of the law. They will suffer more than most if investment in the natural resource economy is driven away by political uncertainty.
Returning to the environmental movement, suppose the prime minister manages to neutralize B.C. Premier John Horgan. Then you can be 100 percent certain the gloves will come off. What happens next is easy to foresee. The environmental movement will unleash a large-scale campaign of civil disobedience and more.
It could take many forms but let’s assume that it aims to reach a crescendo at the moment of maximum political leverage – namely the 2019 federal election.
The campaign will have two messages. The first arises from the hostage to fortune given by then opposition leader Justin Trudeau, who ill-advisedly claimed that “governments issue permits (for pipelines) but communities give permission.” That endorses the view that disaffected communities who don’t win their argument governments, tribunals and courts, nonetheless have the final say over projects they dislike.
The prime minister will be roundly and loudly accused of hypocrisy and the abandonment of the environmentalists whose support he so assiduously courted in the last election. The political message in 2019 will be loud and clear.
The campaign’s second message will be how the refusnik groups are so incensed that they are willing to risk jail and fines to make their opposition effective. One need not recruit that many protesters in absolute numbers from the 2.5 million people in the Lower Mainland to make the nightly news. Nothing would make pipeline opponents happier than to see the federal government and the RCMP throwing scores, if not hundreds, of protesters into paddy wagons in the lead-up to Election Day 2019.
In this heated environment, acts of violence, sabotage and civil disobedience will be deployed in order to make such confrontations unavoidable. Fences will be scaled, bodies chained to equipment, roads blocked, cars and trucks vandalized.
If, when this crucial moment comes, the prime minister doesn’t have the stomach to see off the activists and protesters, it won’t just be the Trans Mountain pipeline that will suffer. The message that will go out to investors everywhere is that even when legal businesses have the active support of the public authorities, intimidation by radicalized minorities can and will win the day.
The fact that Ottawa may financially backstop the project is irrelevant. Companies don’t want compensation for failed projects. They want certainty that if they respect the law, they will be allowed to do their work. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Brian Lee Crowley is Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.