Have you ever had something that you’ve had to get done but not wanted to face it? You know, something that’s extremely difficult to deal with, with no straightforward solution that wouldn’t come without pain. And the only straightforward solution is one that you clearly don’t want to use because of potential fallout from it. Well welcome to May 12th, 2021 in the life of the Trudeau Liberal government, and the situation that we as a country now face with the Line 5 pipeline:
Well folks, what to say about this? For starters, Line 5 is a major piece of energy infrastructure for Canada and the US. Line 5 supplies nearly half of the supply of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids in Ontario and Quebec. It feeds refineries in Sarnia and Montreal. It’s the source of all jet fuel used at Pearson International and Detroit International Airports. This is no small matter, especially at the time when gas prices are already spiking, and supply issues are being raised thanks to the cyber attack against an American pipeline.
There is a lot to go after here, so let’s take this chunk by chunk. Let’s start in Michigan, with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s attempt to force the closure of the Line 5 pipeline. She is being as firm as can be on this, and appears to have no willingness to compromise on anything here. She wants the pipeline shut down, period. Her office has called it a “ticking timebomb” (it’s not) and is now threatening to attempt to seize any profits that Enbridge makes from operating the pipeline after today (hello more court cases). To say that their reaction to a pipeline that has never leaked or had a problem is over the top would be to under sell it. It also can be quite dangerous to real action to fight climate change (which I’ll come back to).
For the part of the Trudeau Liberal government, there has been a lot of talk about working behind the scenes and trying to convince the Biden Administration to step in here, but that hasn’t gotten us anywhere. The Biden Administration made it clear yesterday that they’re staying the heck out of this, as Wittmer is a close Biden ally and Michigan is a crucial state that Biden flipped from Trump. That should have been clear long before today, but yet the Trudeau team kept going down this road and insisting on it. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of their efforts, I do doubt the effectiveness of it, especially when you consider they waited until yesterday to move a brief in the legal case on this in Michigan.
The line from the Trudeau government has been that they will act “at the precise moment” when needed, which has sounded more like “at the last possible moment”. Nothing was stopping Ottawa from getting in on the Michigan court case long before this and waiting has appeared to gotten us nowhere. I believe in the value of negotiation, but it should have been clear long before yesterday that Wittmer wasn’t going to budget. And what’s maybe most worrisome for me is the fact that Ottawa apparently has a trump card in their back pocket that should make this all mute.
Canada signed a treaty with the United States in 1977 on pipelines, specifically to prevent this whole kind of fiasco from happening. Given that Michigan, as a state, is subordinate to such a treaty, the solution here should be pretty straight forward; invoke the Treaty, tell Michigan to go fly a kite. The fact is that American states, like Canadian provinces, don’t have the right to violate treaties that their countries sign with others. We’ve seen the Americans not be afraid to go after Canadian provinces when they have done this. Remember when Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams tried to expropriate property from an American lumber company that was pulling out of the province? That resulted with Canada getting smacked around and having to pay back the company in question for damages. Yet in this case, with so much at risk, we’re still getting this being put out there by Trudeau’s cabinet:
Folks, this bothers me. We know what the impacts of this will be, we know the chaos it would unleash, and we know how bad it could be if it were to pass. But why in the Hell won’t this government just say, “if all else fails, we will invoke that treaty”? We’ve constantly heard them say that “Line 5 is non-negotiable”, yet they have continued to act as if it was because, well, they’ve kept negotiating. And unlike what our Ambassador to Washington said to CBC last week, this is not just some commercial dispute. This is a big problem that could hurt Canadian families all over in the pocketbooks and worse, during a bloody global pandemic of all things. So why won’t this government take that firm stand long ago? Lord only knows but this positioning of theirs hasn’t help.
What this whole situation hasn’t helped as well is with the serious discussion around our energy future and the transition to clean energy. The approach by Michigan on Line 5 is extremely dangerous to any consensus that’s being built around achieving those goals we must meet, mostly because this is so unreasonable. The fact remains that Line 5 has never leaked, period. If this pipeline is a “ticking time bomb”, then so is every other bloody pipeline in existence. And, of course, that’s not the case. To have that discussion about pipelines that haven’t been built yet is on thing, but to try to impose this kind of ideological insanity to perfectly functioning pipelines with no issues is quite another. As an NDP colleague of mine put it, “my idea of a just energy transition isn’t for a foreign nation to inflict a sudden energy crisis on some Canadians.” And he is exactly right.
What Governor Wittmer and her colleagues in Michigan are doing right now is not only futile, but it’s doing serious damage to the fight against climate change. Because of that 1977 Treaty, Michigan can’t do what they’re doing and whenever Ottawa finally drops the hammer on that, as much as they clearly don’t want to, that discussion is over. In the meantime, if Wittmer actual is able to follow through on any of this all she will accomplish is to inflict severe amounts of pain on people who are already struggling through a pandemic, and will likely harden their willingness to do their part to fight climate change. She will only succeed in making enemies out of potential allies, and will set back the fight against climate change even further.
I believe in a just transition to clean energy, but that transition must be just. What Governor Wittmer is proposing to do here is nothing close to being just, by taking out her agenda on a piece of infrastructure that functioning just fine, and hurting everyday people in the process. Those everyday people are a part of the solution to climate change. Those refinery works, those people commuting to work every day, they are all a part of the solution. And if she actually succeeds with this, those will be the ones she will hurt the most, during a time of global crisis. That’s beyond short sighted, that’s just plain dumb. And the fact that the Trudeau government has allowed things to devolve to this point before putting their foot down firmly seriously makes me wonder how much pain we could have avoided had they simply acted like this was actually non-negotiable from the start. What a bloody mess, one that we can easily do without and one that could have been avoided with some firmness.