Trudeau’s Environmental Promises at Risk in Support of Keystone Pipeline
On October 19th, the election of Justin Trudeau, leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, as Prime Minister left many Canadian citizens ripe with hope for change. They were ready to see the nearly ten-year reign of Conservative Party member Stephen Harper come to an end. This campaign captured many records, being, at 78 days, one of the longest in Canadian history and putting into office the second-youngest and first prime minister to follow in the footsteps of a parent. Trudeau is in many aspects the polar opposite of Harper: young and charismatic, liberal, and willing to throw himself down a flight of stairs in the name of comedy. Only 43 years old, he is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Growing up in the spotlight and shadow of his father gave him visibility rarely afforded to political candidates early in their lives. A politician only later in life, Trudeau dabbled in acting, teaching, and advocacy before seeking the Liberal Party nomination in the Papineau electoral district in 2007.
While his youth, relatability, and visibility may seem refreshing to younger voters, it was these qualities that gave cause for smear campaigns by his opposition. The Conservative Party launched attack ads that questioned Trudeau’s ability to run a country with relatively little experience and policies that looked to secure votes from the younger generations. They beg Canadian voters to consider: is he a celebrity or a politician?. If his campaign, wisely tailored to millennials and the middle class, is anything to go by, the answer is politician. A focus on tax cuts for the middle class and social issues currently important to liberal Canadians gave Trudeau an edge in a political climate turning sharply left. Intentions to legalize marijuana, opposition to the anti-Islam policies of now-former Prime Minister Harper’s time, such as the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, and pledges to face climate change quickly and efficiently have raised expectations of a liberal and progressive Canada under the Liberal Party.
Trudeau’s election comes only weeks before the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Paris, where hundreds of key players will be searching for an agreement ammenable to every country to keep average global surface temperature below two degrees Celsius. Trudeau will be attending and has himself made promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a welcome change for Canadians used to Harper’s conservative environmental policies. In 2014, we saw Harper green light the Northern Gateway pipeline, a project of which Trudeau steadfastly disapproves. A project that was first introduced to the public in 2004, the Northern Gateway pipeline was proposed to stretch from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia, carrying natural gas condensate to the east and oil sands to the west. The pipeline, developed by Enbridge, Inc., was to cost CND 7.9 billion, and has received criticism from environmental and First Nation aboriginal groups due to economic and environmental risks. Trudeau firmly believes that the northern coast of Canada is no place for a pipeline and that the economic costs to the aboriginal peoples of the area would far outweigh the future gains. But despite his opposition to this project, Trudeau is in no way opposed to the idea of pipelines in Canada and remains dedicated in his support of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Harper was a strong proponent of the XL Pipeline and Trudeau follows in his footsteps in this regard. A project that would carry petroleum from the oil sands of northern Alberta to the border of Nebraska then connect with various other Keystone pipelines to carry it down to Texas for exportation, this pipeline is one that the Obama administration is highly skeptical of. Obama’s veto of the bill has come as a relief to environmental groups throughout the United States and Canada. Highly regarded among Democrats and liberals as a project that puts the progress of reforms aimed at slowing climate change at risk, even Trudeau himself realizes that his support comes as a shock. But when considering his dedication to investments in national infrastructure , his support follows the reasoning one can find in any argument for the construction of the pipeline: the Keystone XL Pipeline will create thousands of jobs. But this dedication is incompatible with his promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many environmental groups say. Not only would the pipeline disrupt the unique boreal forests of northern Alberta, but it would also travel over the United States’ largest freshwater aquifer. While it is hard to ignore the need for job creation in both countries, it is even harder to look past the environmental issues that may come up should this project be approved.
Trudeau’s seemingly contradictory stance on crude oil pipelines speaks to a greater contradiction within his role as prime minister: how can he pay homage to his promise to boost the Canadian economy and protect the middle class while staying in line with his party’s position on environmental issues? An argument that permeates the Republican rhetoric on the XL Pipeline in the United States is that its construction will provide relatively long-term jobs in an economy that is desperate for them. In Canada, this holds true even more so. Canada’s unemployment rate is higher than that of the United States, 6.9 percent compared to our 5.5. But the State Department tells us that TransCanada, which would build the pipeline, plans to hire only 50 people during its operational phase, only 35 of which would be permanent employees. The construction phase would only create around 2,000 jobs over two years, not nearly enough to even act as a bandaid on the unemployment problem that the U.S. and Canada face. So rather than having to compromise on one of his winning points of focus, Trudeau should recognize that the benefits rarely outweigh the costs; the U.S. State Department estimates that Canadian energy production will grow at the same rate regardless of the pipeline’s construction. His support of the project already got him the votes he needed in Alberta, an area particularly hard hit by unemployment, and now that he has secured his position as prime minister, Trudeau can focus on fulfilling his promises of working towards a more environmentally friendly Canada.