Environmental activists interrupt Stephen Harper talking pipelines with the Vancouver Board of Trade
A duo of climate-change activists briefly interrupted a talk Stephen Harper delivered in Vancouver this morning (January 6).
The man and woman rushed on-stage holding signs reading “Climate justice now” and “The Conservatives take climate change seriously”, with the latter’s text crossed out.
“It wouldn’t be Vancouver without it,” the prime minister said, to which the packed convention hall responded with laughter as the pair was escorted away by security.
Outside the Fairmont Pacific Rim, a group of demonstrators associated with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers protested the federal government’s recent cuts to Canada Post. But inside the hotel, the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Iain Black gave Harper a warm outlet. “We’ve got the Canadian Olympic team being picked; I understand tomorrow is the announcement,” he said toward the end of the half-hour conversation. “Give us some predictions: how is it looking for Sochi?”
Most of Black’s more serious queries related to trade agreements, oil pipelines, and the general state of Canada’s economy.
The question-and-answer session began with Harper emphasizing the Conservative government’s accomplishments negotiating free-trade agreements since taking office in 2006. He noted that his administration has been diversifying markets for Canadian goods by increasing the number of such arrangements from five to 42.
“It was the essential step, essentially, breaking out of a trade pattern that was just North America-focused,” Harper said.
Black, a former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister, next focused the conversation on energy developments and, specifically, pipeline projects that Ottawa has made clear it wants constructed through British Columbia.
Likely in a reference to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, Harper took the opportunity to argue that the Conservative government is not advocating for specific projects but is merely working to ensure that energy developments go ahead with the appropriate environmental reviews and safeguards in place.
“The government’s role is not to endorse particular pipelines or conclude particular energy business projects,” he said. “Our job as a government is to set up proper processes of evaluation and scrutiny.”
Harper then emphasized that the federal government will not approve new pipelines unless they “meet the highest standards of environmental protection”.
“Whether it is energy or other mining projects, the government has always followed the best scientific and expert advice,” he said. (Some critics have suggested that this is not the case. For example, see John Dupuis’s list of the Conservative’s record on science, and a discussion of Chris Turner’s recent book on the same topic.)
Harper continued: “Beyond that, Iain [Black], I’m obviously not going to say anything because we have reports before us now that we have to act on and take judgements.”
On the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would run through B.C., joining the Alberta oil sands to markets in the United States, Harper expressed optimism for negotiations that stalled through 2013.
“It is, ultimately, an American problem,” he said. “I am confident that in due course—I can’t put a time line on that—the project will, one way or another, proceed.”
Harper also touched on challenges that proposed pipeline projects have faced from Native groups in B.C. and across Canada.
“If handled correctly, this is an unprecedented opportunity for aboriginal people and their communities to join the mainstream Canadian economy, without which, in my judgement, we won’t make progress on all the other things—the social issues—that we need to make progress on in those communities,” he said.
“I encourage aboriginal leaders to look at these things, not just as opportunities to gain a revenue stream but opportunities to have people get skills…to develop the kind of both human and physical capital that will allow your people to participate in similar projects across the country.”
Harper did not take questions from the audience or from members of the media.
At the corner of Burrard Street and Canada Place, the postal-service demonstration had thinned by the time Harper’s audience was exiting the building. Holding a sign that read “Go away Harper”, Ed Nickels, a retired postal worker, asked that the Conservative government “quit dismantling Canada”.
“We like it the way it is,” he said.