Martyn Brown: Losing it like Trudeau in British Columbia

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      By now, you’ve probably seen the video of Trudeau’s epic meltdown in response to the persistent protesters who disrupted his town hall last Friday in Nanaimo, B.C.

      After trying repeatedly to quell the noisy hecklers who were determined to ruin his love-in, Trudeau finally lost his patience and flipped out.

      “Ach, come on! COME on! Really? Really?” he erupted.

      “Will you please respect the people in this room?” he asked his antagonist, three times. “No? Then please leave.”

      The crowd roared its approval.

      “If you’re not going to respect the people in this room, you need to leave. That’s the rule. Sorry, go ahead,” he snapped, with a dismissive wave of his hand, as the cops moved in to remove his offender.

      As I sat watching the live-streamed spectacle unfold, I couldn’t help but think that those words and that exchange will live in infamy.

      Potentially, they will serve as Trudeau’s political epitaph.

      Many Canadians—especially in British Columbia—are growing increasingly exasperated by his actions, at the behest of Big Oil, to ram through the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. It would triple the flow of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to Kinder Morgan's marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C.

      Video: Justin Trudeau lost his cool last week in Nanaimo when hecklers didn't accept his justifications for the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

      They are angry and afraid of the risks posed by that plan to turn Metro Vancouver into a major export hub for unrefined heavy oil, for good reason.

      Specifically, it proposes to ship up to 890,000 barrels of tar-sands oil per day across more than 500 streams in the Fraser River watershed, to Canada’s largest Pacific metropolitan area.

      It would add 14 new tanks to Kinder Morgan’s existing export facility in Burnaby, to store another 3.9 million barrels of toxic tar-sands gunk.

      It would increase supertanker traffic in the sensitive Salish Sea by some 574 percent. About 408 supertankers every year would ship their life-threatening cargo through one of the world’s most renowned, beautiful, and delicate marine environments.

      It is a project that is now subject to 15 consolidated challenges at the Federal Court of Appeal, including from several First Nations, the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver, the Living Oceans Society, and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

      It is a project that is vehemently opposed by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. And also, by its most directly impacted “host” communities and the Government of British Columbia, which is also fighting it in court.

      It is a project that is so stupid, so unnecessary, and so contrary to Canada’s national interests, it defies belief.

      A project that would unnecessarily further endanger Canada’s already threatened salmon stocks and the 76 resident orca whales that still remain in the Salish Sea.

      A project that would despoil “Super, Natural B.C.”, undermine its tourism economy, and make Vancouver’s “Greenest City” brand a bad joke.

      All the money, time, and effort spent trying to establish and build on that reputation—from the 2010 Olympics, to the countless trade missions that followed in trying to court international investment in B.C.’s “clean, green economy”—now hangs in the balance.

      And all because of a project that was predictably approved by the National Energy Board under a rigged process without any consideration of its impacts on upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions.

      Without even so much as an opportunity for oral cross-examination of its supporting evidence.

      From the outset, that gong show betrayed both its promise and its purpose with a dishonest review aimed at rubber-stamping its own subject and at silencing its critics.

      It was a project preordained for cabinet approval, which Trudeau successfully convinced Canadians was inescapably compromised by Stephen Harper’s defective NEB process.

      He rightly slammed that process in the 2015 federal election and promised to fix it in making a “sound decision” on Kinder Morgan, duly informed by science.

      Before the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau told the Dogwood Initiative's Kai Nagata that the NEB process for the Kinder Morgan pipeline needed to be redone. It wasn't redone after the 2015 election.

      Don’t worry, he assured us British Columbians, he has “B.C. in his blood”. 

      Once in office, he promptly made that problem even worse with a phony “review” that only amplified his betrayal. His government’s approval of the project relied upon that same corrupt process that he lambasted to make the decision he now defends “in the national interest”.

      He lied. It is as simple as that.

      And nothing his government does through its pending legislation to overhaul the environmental assessment process, as it applies to future pipelines excluding the Kinder Morgan project, will change that.

      More than ever, that project is the ugly boil on Canada’s pretty face that just won’t go away.

      Alberta and the federal Liberal government view it as a beautiful thing. It is an oily mess that they seek to help “blossom” to its full potential.

      Indeed, Trudeau now sees that proposed pustule on Canada’s corporal image as an unblemished treasure. He beams about it as an example to the world in “the science of looking awesome!” His metaphoric take on a Clearasil ad to put a fresh, new face on Canada’s dirtiest business.

      But underlying his newly enthusiastic commitment to Kinder Morgan is a false dichotomy and a grand lie.

      One that takes for idiots all of us who care about climate change, about protecting our sensitive ecosystems and the life that depends on them, and about moving toward a truly sustainable economy. One that also treats Aboriginal people for fools.

      Surely, the last thing the planet needs is more dirty oil and related carbon emissions from increased Canadian oilsands exports.

      At the root of his determination to impose that widely unwanted project is a fundamental lack of respect for our environment. For Aboriginal Canadians’ constitutional rights and title. For British Columbia’s autonomy and wishes. And for the intelligence of all Canadians.

      Only a few hours before Trudeau regurgitated his defence of Kinder Morgan to the 1,700 people attending that overflow event in Nanaimo, this is what he actually said about that project in a radio interview with Victoria CBC host Gregor Craigie.

      “There are three parts, really, of the national interest on the environment and the economy as it comes to pipelines.

      “First of all, we need to have a world-class oceans protection plan in place, which is why we put over $1 billion in the biggest investment in protecting the B.C. coast that there’s ever been. Second, we have to have an ambitious plan to fight carbon emissions, to reduce carbon emissions, right across the country, which we’ve brought in with the pan-Canadian framework, reducing carbon emissions and putting a price on carbon right across the country. And third, we need to make sure that we are getting our resources to market overseas, safely and securely.

      “The only way we can get any of those things is if we do all three of those things together. That’s the plan that we put in place, and that’s what we’re going to move forward with.”

      He went on in that interview to dig himself even deeper, with the outrageous argument he later reiterated in Nanaimo.

      “We made a determination to move forward, not just on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, but on a national price on carbon pollution, and on an historic oceans protection plan. And if you want any of those things, we have to all of those things.

      “Part of our pan-Canadian framework involves putting an absolute limit on oilsands emissions. That wouldn’t happen if we didn’t move forward in a comprehensive, responsible way.” (The subtext? Approving Kinder Morgan.)

      “We are going to be able to meet our carbon—our Paris commitments—under the existing plan, which includes the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

      “The issue that we have is if we don’t move forward in getting our resources to markets overseas in safe and secure ways, the rest of the plan no longer holds. We won’t get the oceans protection plan investments. We won’t get a national price on carbon. And we would never meet our Paris targets.”

      “So it’s a plan that all holds together…This is the global approach that we’ve taken and we’re going to stick with it.” (Take that, British Columbia!)

      “That’s why we put forward a comprehensive approach that combines both growing the economy and protecting the environment at the same time…you can no longer choose either protecting the environment or growing the economy—you have to do them both."

      What utter tripe.

      Environmental protests like this have become commonplace in British Columbia.
      Mark Klotz

      As if anyone in their right mind is suggesting that we should see the Kinder Morgan project in such “either, or” zero-sum terms that pit the environment against the economy.

      In essence, he is trying to suggest that without Kinder Morgan we cannot grow our economy. And worse, that it is only by proceeding with that plan—to pad corporate profits, through higher volumes of heavy, unrefined oil and exports aimed primarily at reaping higher prices—that Canadians can hope to protect their environment.

      Oh, come on, prime minister! Come on! Really? Really?

      It is as insulting to Canadians’ intelligence as Alberta premier Rachel Notley’s inflammatory response to the B.C. government’s new consultative measures was.

      Egged on by Alberta’s Conservatives, the mainstream media, and its partners in mime in Big Oil, Notley has suspended talks to purchase electricity from B.C.

      She has warned that it is only her opening salvo in a broader trade war that she alone has initiated. Clearly, she is trying to bully British Columbians into “crying uncle” on Kinder Morgan and to further pressure Trudeau into imposing that project with the “full weight of the federal government”. 

      And all because British Columbia's NDP government had the “audacity” to seek public input on strengthening the province’s regulatory regime in respect of oil spill prevention, response, clean-up, and remediation.

      All because premier Horgan and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman have vowed to impose new restrictions on the increase of “dilbit” transportation across B.C.’s environment “until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills”.

      It’s something that should have been done ages ago, and certainly before Trudeau ever allowed the Kinder Morgan project to hit his cabinet’s desk for approval.

      Fact is, no one has a scientifically substantiated clue about the added dangers to our oceans and their dependent living species that is posed by a large heavy oil spill.

      We need that. Urgently. And obviously before making any irreversible moves to make its object a moot point.

      Trudeau used to say he agreed with that position. No longer. And no matter the very real risk and cost to our entire national economy of a calamity that is mathematically certain to happen at some point if the proposed Kinder Morgan project goes forward as wrongly approved.

      It is, of course, patent nonsense for Trudeau to suggest that the only way Canada can meet its Paris commitments is to make them virtually unattainable, by dint of a project that is aimed only at increasing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

      It is equally absurd to say that the only way that Canada can even put a national price on carbon to help meet its obligations to cut carbon emissions is to beg Big Oil’s permission to do that, least of all, with the “carrot” of Kinder Morgan.

      This was just a portion of the mess created by a diluted bitumen spill in Arkansas in 2013.
      Environmental Protection Agency

      Also ludicrous is Trudeau’s contention that the only way that Canadians should expect to benefit from their federal government’s planned $1-billion investment to protect their Pacific coast is to build a pipeline and expanded oil export facility that makes that investment all the more necessary.

      That investment, the safeguards it anticipates, and the financial “protection” asked of Big Oil is nowhere near sufficient to meet existing risks, let alone the compounded risks that Kinder Morgan’s project would create.

      A further sleight of hand is Trudeau’s attempt to conflate the “need” to “get our resources to market overseas”—which is all about making more money for oil companies at the expense of our environment—with the need to do that “safely and securely”.

      Basically, he is implying that the refined oil and unrefined bitumen that is already being shoved offshore from Metro Vancouver to foreign markets is being done unsafely and insecurely.

      And further, that only by tripling the volume of that stuff can we hope to have our own federal government invest as it should to improve oil spill prevention and clean-up.

      What clap-trap.

      Moreover, his ridiculous argument rests on a vision for maximizing heavy oil exports without so much as even refining that product in Canada.

      He would have Canadians believe that it is in their “national interest” to forfeit even that potential for added value, more jobs, greater investment, safer transport, and reduced environmental risk.

      At a minimum, the risks could have been also minimized if that tar sands goop was at least refined in Canada.

      But that would create even more emissions that Canada would have to “own”, and that would largely negate the massive windfall that Alberta hopes to reap from exporting that problem as well to Asia and to the world’s already most polluted cities.

      Funny, I sure don’t recall Trudeau ever telling Canadians in the election that his commitment to investing in marine protection was predicated on approving the Kinder Morgan project.

      I sure didn’t hear him tell the world, in Paris, that his commitment to a national carbon pricing strategy and to lowering carbon emissions was actually dependent on pumping more oilsands emissions into our atmosphere and on building the Kinder Morgan project.

      Rather, he conned all Canadian voters into believing that he was truly committed to an independent and rigorous scientific review of the Trans Mountain pipeline project. Apparently, he had no intention of honouring that commitment either in government.

      My response to that mirrors his response to the protesters in Nanaimo.

      If you’re not going to respect the people in this country that elected you to your office, you need to leave. That’s the rule. Sorry, go ahead.

      Trouble is, only he has the full weight of the law under his control, including the military.

      Should Canadians now understand him to mean that he is also prepared to use that brute force, if push came to shove, to muscle through the Kinder Morgan project?

      “Whatever is necessary” is his new mantra.

      We shall see about that.

      Something tells me, his rabid bark for Big Oil is bigger than his government’s bite will ever dare to be.

      I certainly pray that’s the case, intent as he now seems to push First Nations beyond their boiling point in defending their constitutionally protected interests. They have sworn it will never see the light of day.

      Whether Trudeau knows it or not, he has already initiated a new national town hall on this crucial issue.

      Canada is at a crossroads from which there is no turning back. Each step forward Trudeau takes in the wrong direction will threaten the national fabric in unpredictable and unintended ways that stand to challenge the very construct of Confederation.

      It promises to be very noisy and unrelenting from here on, wherever Trudeau goes.

      British Columbians and other Canadians won’t accept his “rules” of engagement, because they can’t accept his false jobs-vs.-environment dichotomy.

      Nor will Kinder Morgan’s legions of critics ever accept his three-pronged plan for goals and actions that are in no way dependent on each other and that actually work at cross purposes.

      As so many scientists and experts have argued in vain, the Kinder Morgan project is diametrically contrary to Canada’s climate action commitments to the world.

      It makes a mockery of Trudeau’s disingenuous greenhouse gas reduction vows in the Paris Agreement to cut Canada’s emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

      Only in Trudeau’s deliberately deluded world is “sustainable development” defined by a project that would directly add 13.5-million to 17-million tonnes of carbon annually to Canada’s GHG emissions burden.

      Only in the addled minds of his new bosom buddies in Big Oil does it make sense to “combat” global warming with a project that stands to expedite it.

      That project alone would “contribute” an estimated 100 million tonnes of additional greenhouse gases each year into our atmosphere. It is anathema to Canada’s national interest and to a sustainable economy predicated on clean growth and renewable energy.

      It is also as much a line in the sand for many First Nations as Oka, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake, Burnt Church, Apex Mountain, Duffy Lake, Seton Portage, or other shameful and sorry incidents ever were.

      Those were all avoidable conflicts that governments largely brought upon themselves by their stupidity, insolence, heavy-handed actions, and disrespect for Aboriginal rights and title.

      Come on! Really, prime minister? And you, too, Premier Notley.

      Alberta premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are prepared to jeopardize southwestern B.C.'s multibillion-dollar tourism economy to placate Big Oil.

      The last thing that any of us should want is to impose a project that incites the passions of so many Canadians—and that can only be built with the full muscle of the state and the law behind it.

      Yet that is precisely what Notley is urging the federal government to use to get Alberta’s heavy oil to Pacific tidewater.

      It shouldn’t come to that. Not ever. Certainly not for this misguided project, which would in fact only violate the national interest.

      You bet we are mad, prime minister.

      Many of us are not going to sit quietly on our hands, as you and your apologists for the rampant expansion of fossil fuel development effectively try to silence our voices.

      We will not go meekly into the dark night, as you disparage our concerns with a bankrupt assessment process and a stubborn refusal to listen. Or with specious arguments of the type you made on CBC in justifying your wrong-headed decision.

      It is your actions, sir, that are most innately disrespectful of due process, contemptuous of democracy, inconsiderate of provincial autonomy, and impudent of the courts and of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

      At its most basic level, the “Nanaimo incident” will probably be remembered as the pivotal moment when Trudeau lost not only his temper, but also his capacity to “preach and teach” through town halls. At least, not without staged political protests and confrontations aimed at coopting both his message and his intended media coverage.

      From this day forward, Trudeau’s “Hollywood star” will never look the same. It is fair game for critics to tread upon in open defiance of the “rules” he hopes will preserve his former luster.

      Like all politicians inevitably discover when they do things that people really don’t like, deference and propriety tend to go out the window at public forums in the face of impassioned and organized political resistance.

      It is high time the prime minister stepped back and took a deep breath.

      It is time he actually did what he was elected to do: namely, fix the problem that his predecessor created, instead of making it worse.

      Enough with the bravado on pushing through Kinder Morgan, come what may, you politicians of questionable regard for “peace, order, and good government”, as our constitution envisions.

      A constitution, it must be said, that never even mentioned the word “environment” in its distribution of powers, as my colleague Norman Spector astutely noted in our weekly CBC political panel, only minutes after the prime minister’s interview with the same host.

      If nothing else, this national crisis-in-the-making will newly test the courts to ascertain the jurisdictional boundaries of environmental rights under the constitution. And that’s a good thing, because right now, it is as clear as mud—or as “Texas tea”.

      All the world should know, that pipeline and expanded terminal will never be built if its detractors have their way, as I am confident they will.

      The federal government would never in a million years dream of imposing that project on Quebec or Ontario, over the wishes of their citizens and provincial governments.

      It would never countenance a trade war threatened by Alberta against those vote-rich provinces, over a project that their provincial governments determined did not adequately protect their environment, their economy, and their citizens.

      British Columbia deserves the same respect, including from Alberta. We have every right to put regulations in place that adequately protect our environment and our economy, frustrating as that may be to other provinces who only want to move their oil to offshore markets.

      Give your head a shake, prime minister.

      This project is simply not in the national interest. It will be further tested in court as the constitutional question it already is.

      Canada’s new town hall on Kinder Morgan has begun, and all that your aggrieved audience begs you to do is to clam up and listen.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at