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The Pipeline Divide

By Gerard Di Trolio - Rank and File, May 23, 2019

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s volte-face on liquified natural gas (LNG) projects in British Columbia is a welcome development. The policy reversal seems to stem from the recent victory of the Green Party in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election on May 6 which saw the NDP lose a seat they previously held. Whatever the precise reason, the Federal NDP now has responded to the policy weakness they had with which that the Greens were able to outflank them from the left.

However, the protests at the Unist’ot’en Camp by members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline should not be overlooked when it comes to bringing wider attention to the problems of LNG projects.

Singh’s new opposition to LNG is not without controversy from some of the NDP’s ostensible allies. B.C. unions whose members will work on the LNG pipeline are now going public with their displeasure with this policy change.

Leaders of Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 1611 and International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Canada, the unions that will be working on the project believe Singh is putting putting the jobs of their members at risk and that the Coastal GasLink Pipeline that will run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat has the “social licence” to go ahead.

But this is not the way for labour. The better approach is a  just transition, which seeks to build a green and sustainable economy where workers in carbon-intensive industries are not left behind, and which restructures the economy to also meet other social justice goals. If unions don’t step up and articulate a program for a green transition that is also a just transition then workers and everyone else who aren’t among the elite are going to be battered by climate change and by whatever responses that capital comes up with – like ignoring worker interests – once they realize they can’t ignore a warming planet any more.

Let’s address some of these points when it comes to the issue of “social licence”.

First, when it comes to jobs, the 2,000-2,500 jobs created by the construction of the pipeline are temporary. The Coastal GasLink Pipeline will only create an estimated 16-35 permanent jobs.

Second, when it comes to Indigenous consent, while the elected Wet’suwet’en band council has agreed to the project, hereditary leadership and their allies are invoking the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to say that the Band council does not have jurisdiction over all traditional territories, and that the declaration makes clear that Indigenous peoples cannot be forcibly removed from their territories.

Third, any LNG export terminal and pipeline development will make it harder for B.C. to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. And if B.C. allows the construction of all of the proposed LNG projects on the table, that alone would mean the province would exceed its total GHG emissions target for 2050.

So by any measure, LNG development in B.C. does not meet the criteria of job creation, respect for Indigenous rights, and GHG reduction targets that Singh has previously laid out when discussing how he would be willing to support these sort of fossil fuel developments.

What we have here is a case of unions tailing whatever economic scheme that big business is proposing, instead of offering up a different vision of the economy that can provide jobs and protect the planet.

Many more construction jobs could be created by an aggressive program of retrofitting buildings in B.C. to be more energy-efficient.

And instead of a few dozen permanent jobs created to watch over a pipeline, a serious industrial policy to develop an expansive renewable energy sector would create a lot more jobs.

The irony in all of this is that Canadian unions played a major role in devising the concept of the just transition. For unions to continue down this road of short-term solutions is not only going to let their members down over the long-term but make reconciliation and climate justice impossible. Singh’s new policy towards LNG development in B.C. will hopefully signal to those unions that back it, of the ultimate futility of it.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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