If there is one thing that might come out of the mess Canada found itself in with the Coastal GasLink pipeline protests, it just might be that our polarized country will learn some lessons to ensure a small group of people will never cripple our economy again.
How a minority protest in the B.C. wilderness over a pipeline could escalate into national economic paralysis is a question that will intrigue historians for many years.
There is plenty of blame to go around. But let’s put the most obvious party — Ottawa — aside for a minute and begin with the provincial premiers.
There was John Horgan, the righteous environmentalist premier of B.C., defending his pipeline to angry environmentalists and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs as a necessary investment for the sake of the province’s economy.
There must have been some appreciation of the irony in Alberta.
When a provincial premier vows to stop a pipeline at all costs, as Horgan did with the Trans Mountain Pipeline extension, why wouldn’t others get the idea of ignoring injunctions, building barricades or shutting down the railway system at that time?
Horgan, after all, tried to give himself the right — illegally, as it turned out — to block the flow of Alberta oil into B.C. in a last-ditch effort to stop the pipeline expansion.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney incited Western separatists through his strident opposition to a federal carbon tax. Spending $30 million on a war room to discredit anyone who dares to criticize the oilsands was an abuse of public funds. And Ontario Premier Doug Ford had the audacity to order gas stations to put stickers on their pumps denouncing the carbon tax.
If the provincial premiers are going to be extreme, why wouldn’t protesters? The premiers could make a big contribution to peace, order and good government by changing their strident ways. Their efforts so far have had an effect opposite to what was intended.
On the subject of unintended outcomes, let’s turn to the Indigenous people’s experience.
The Indigenous economy has the potential to reach $100 billion within five years — about three times its current value — according to a recent study by the Indigenomics Institute Inc. Indigenous self-employment and business ownership is growing at a rate of five times that of non-Indigenous Canada.
A public backlash resulting from Coastal GasLink could hurt that progress. The current federal government has shown more interest in Indigenous development than any government before it — but won’t continue to do so if it no longer has the political capital.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and others dependent on federal money, has been circumspect in hinting that the barricades should come down. The AFN should speak louder, as 20 elected band councils in the path of Coastal GasLink support it.
The Prime Minister sent an unsubtle signal to the AFN when he said on Feb. 21 that the barricades must come down.
As for the feds, their biggest mistake in this affair is not taking the situation seriously soon enough. But they probably won’t have to worry about that because the gong show that is the Conservative leadership race amounts to the Tories ceding the next election to the Liberals.
What the Liberals do have to worry about is long-term damage to their brand, given that Justin Trudeau made reconciliation a marquee policy of his government. The Liberals need to begin by dismantling the Indian Act.
Anyone who finds Canada’s system of government complicated is likely to find Indigenous governance to be Byzantine. We need new laws that recognize Indigenous rights and rights for the rest of Canada alike.
And what about asking Preston Manning and Paul Martin to draft a framework to reconcile climate and economic policy once and for all? That’s what Teck Resources Ltd. CEO Donald Lindsay suggested as he pulled the plug on the $20-billion Frontier oilsands mine. Both Manning and Martin would be respected by all sides.
This is no time for virtue signalling. Action is required.