Justin Trudeau has become popular by cultivating a drastically different image of Canada than the widely hated Harper government. This has generated widespread public expectations that the new government’s policies around issues like the global climate crisis and Indigenous rights will be quite different. But is this really the case? We need to look beyond fine words. Already some of Trudeau’s election promises have been broken.
During the election campaign Trudeau promised to scrap the broken National Energy Board review process and start over. Indigenous and environmental and community groups have argued this body is totally biased in favour of industry. Nonetheless, NEB hearings on the Kinder Morgan pipeline went ahead under the old rules. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr revealed his pro-corporate biases by arguing a transition period is necessary so companies don’t have to start again from scratch. The project would triple the amount of tar sands dilbit (diluted bitumen) being transported and would lead to seven fold increases in tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet, the unceded territory of the Tseil-Waututh (People of the Inlet). We should not trust the Liberal government, which has very strong ties to corporate Canada and the energy industry. And Big Oil is pressing very, very hard to build Kinder Morgan and Trans Canada’s Energy pipelines.
Globally 2015 was the warmest year recorded by a wide margin. Trudeau and US President Barack Obama say they are worried about the growing destructive impacts of climate change. The problem is they are opposed to making fundamental changes to the capitalist system and it’s never-ending drive for more growth and resource extraction. Instead they favor neo-liberal policies, which focus on market driven solutions such as carbon pricing. Their solutions are based on a partnership between government and industry, which will be the driving force in investing billions of dollars in unproven techno-fixes (cleaner coal, cleaner tar sands and many more). These are false solutions to the rapidly deepening problem. Their central focus is on making changes that are profitable for investors, not to make the publicly controlled social investments needed to meet human needs and protect the earth.
November’s United Nations COP 21 (Conference of Parties) in Paris reached a climate agreement that was hailed as historic by government leaders and institutions like the World Bank. Major corporations including leading fossil fuel corporations played a major role in shaping the agenda. But the voice of those least responsible for the climate-change but massively impacted (Pacific Island nations, Indigenous people around the world, people of colour, and the poor, including peasants in the Global South) were not heard.
Issuing a state of emergency, French President Francois Hollande declared all protests in Paris illegal. But tens of thousands expressed their rejection, and demanded System Change Not Climate Change. They want a world in which corporate power is drastically curtailed. And sovereign Indigenous and local communities can democratically decide about resource use and block resource projects that threaten people and all forms of life. Many think the best way to stop climate change is to keep the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground.
Pacific Island nations, whose very existence is threatened by rising levels, challenged the official target of limiting global warming to two-degrees by coining the phrase “1.5 to Stay Alive.” World leaders like Justin Trudeau appeared to take notice of these concerns. Trudeau pledged aid to help poor countries adapt. But he and Obama helped block language from poor countries around loss and damage. They made sure there was no legal obligation for rich nations and global corporations to pay for the harm they have done. Fundamentally, the non-binding nationally determined targets for carbon reduction are way too low to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Leading climate scientists says this will lead to an approximate (and catastrophic) 3-degree temperature rise by the end of the century. And nothing in the COP 21 agreement prevents companies from continuing to produce and use fossil fuels, which remain the most profitable and cheapest option.
Meanwhile, the BC government is determined to ram through LNG, fracking, and the Site-C Dam without the consent of Indigenous land defenders. In short, under Trudeau the neo-liberal agenda continues to dominate. No major party in Canada is willing to advocate shutting down the Tar Sands, ban fracking, and oppose all major pipelines serving the corporate fossil fuel agenda. We need to back the struggle of Indigenous land defenders as we ramp up grassroots struggles and direct actions.