Thomas Mulcair probably wishes the Energy East pipeline was already a done deal.
That way he wouldn’t have to put up with the steady stream of protest directed his way at campaign events across the country.
Last week, I summed up some of the internal dissent that the NDP is currently reckoning with over the issue of pipelines, which has sharply divided the leftist and neoliberal wings of the party:
It began with candidate Linda McQuaig’s comments last week that much of the “oilsands oil” will probably have to be left in the ground – a position which is held by most prominent climate scientists and which, taken literally, is hardly controversial, given the vastness of Alberta’s reserves. The attacks on McQuaig and the NDP from oil industry lackeys was fast and furious, and Thomas Mulcair very quickly and publicly caved in, proclaiming that the NDP was committed to bringing tar sands oil to market. “We’re in favour of creating markets for our natural resources, we’re in favour of developing them, but that has to be done sustainably,” Mulcair insisted, a litany he would find himself repeating all week.
In the aftermath of that ridiculous controversy, Mulcair has faced an onslaught of protest. His campaign biography book launch was disrupted by a banner drop. Protestors followed his every move during a four-city swing through Quebec. He’s faced subtle rebukes from provincial-level politicians and an out-in-the-open one from a prominent former MP over the party’s tortured stance on pipelines and the tar sands.
Then, just a few days ago, hecklers caused a major disruption at what was supposed to be a major campaign speech in Winnipeg:
Mulcair had barely begun his stump speech in the presence of more than 1,000 diehard supporters when a dozen protesters began shouting their displeasure at the federal NDP’s support for the Energy East pipeline project.
Throughout Mulcair’s speech, the protesters hurled taunts at the burly NDP leader, demanding he reject any policy or project that would help move Alberta bitumen to market. Mulcair was up to the challenge, frequently firing taunts back at the protesters, a gesture that often prompted thunderous applause from the rabid NDP crowd.
And yet, it wasn’t long before the absurdity of the situation revealed itself: the leader of a social democratic, left-wing political party shouting taunts at environmental protesters and getting lusty applause for doing so…
The NDP love to hammer away at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his awkward support for Bill C-51, a political deal with the devil in its own right. However, on pipelines, Mulcair has found himself in a similar predicament.
His dream of environmentally friendly pipelines is a position that puts Mulcair on the razor’s edge of a very fine policy line. Too fine, it seems, for the protesters who have attended just about every one of his campaign events.
Mulcair apparently lost his patience at one point, shouting at the protesters, “Listen, I’m more than willing to put up with your screaming but I’m talking about First Nations. Can you show a little bit of respect please?” One of the protesters, Clayton Thomas-Muller, a well-known Indigenous activist, was having none of that, as he explained in a Facebook post:
Putting pressure on politicians after they are elected has never worked. Tom Mulcair does not get to “REDWASH” NDP campaigns by promising to support Shoal Lake on the water/road issues only to build a tar sands pipeline right beside it, not to mention crossing the Winnipeg water delivery aqueduct too. The Indigenous Rights movement with the support of the Climate Justice movement have and will continue to hammer all political candidates on the issue of pipelines, because it is fundamentally linked to the expansion of the Alberta tar sands which is a life and death situation for First Nations in Alberta and also for billions of vulnerable peoples in the global south being affected right now by violent unpredictable weather events like hurricanes and typhoons which tar sands expansion will exacerbate. Pipelines like the energy east present the most significant threat to thousands of lakes, rivers, streams in the proposed right of way…If you have an issue with the tactics the brave students from the fossil fuel divestment movement who led yesterdays action here in Winnipeg or the Treaty 3 members who lead a sacred water walk last week thru Eagle Lake FN to Shoal Lake FN to protest the energy east from being built in their territory threatening their way of life and access to clean water then please put pressure on the NDP to clarify their position on this project.
Thomas-Muller is exactly right – there’s no way in hell that an NDP government, elected on a platform of “reworking” the pipeline approval process and having made it clear that they believe we should find a way to get more tar sands oil to market, is going to suddenly respond to pressure from activists and front-line communities. That’s just not how it works. And for Mulcair to make promises on #MMIW and on a long-overdue road for Shoal Lake First Nation while ignoring the devastating effect tar sands extraction and transportation is having on Indigenous communities across the country is half-assed disingenuousness at best.
The irony is that a lot of NDP supporters would be in favour of a moratorium on pipelines and a concrete plan to transition away from carbon-based energy systems, including a phasing out of tar sands production. Such a middle-of-the-road proposal would quite likely be able to find a constituency and command enough support to propel the NDP into government. And the disenchantment many, including some prominent party members, are feeling with the NDP’s current position on this issue is becoming more evident by the week.
But Mulcair has chosen a different route, trying to sell his party to the big oil companies as the one that will be able to finally deliver on all these tar sands mega-projects. From my post from last Sunday:
Speaking to reporters about the incident [the banner drop at his book launch], Mulcair had this to say:
“Well, it is possible by doing what we’ve been saying for some time: We have to put in place a credible, thorough environmental assessment process that includes Canada’s obligation to reduce greenhouse gasses and of course therefore deal with the very real problem of global warming,” Mulcair said.
“Mr. Harper thought he was going to be helping these oil companies by gutting the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Fisheries Act. He thought he was helping them. But in fact, as we all know, not one of those projects has gotten off the drawing board.
“So what we propose to do is to put in place a credible, thorough system of environmental assessment that includes greenhouse gases and Canada’s international obligations,” Mulcair said.
Read that quote again, keeping in mind this context from last year:
The federal NDP leader also said pipelines to carry oil from the West to the East should be a priority because they would build energy security, get higher prices for Canadian oil, and create jobs…
“The NDP will be a partner with the development of energy resources,” if it forms a government in 2015, Mr. Mulcair told a luncheon organized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by oil sands producer Suncor Energy Inc. and pipeline company Enbridge Inc.
“We will be there with you,” he said, while also inviting the sector to work harder to earn its “social licence” to operate, have meaningful consultations with First Nations, and take its environmental responsibilities more seriously. [my bold]
His phrasing seems to be directed at oil companies more than anybody. Look, he’s saying, Harper hasn’t gotten it done for you – but the NDP will be able to! We’ve all seen, to the detriment of our environment, how easy it is to set up a regulatory apparatus which favours certain outcomes, and that seems to be what Mulcair is indicating he’ll do – establish a “credible” process of approval which will give pipeline projects an aura of trustworthiness.
My take is that anti-pipeline activists should continue to ride Mulcair’s ass on this issue. He’s clearly feeling the heat, and the more he has to talk about this, the more people will become aware of this vital issue. As well, the NDP is looking like a party divided against itself, and really, it’s now or never for the leftists within the party. If Mulcair wins a mandate on the vanilla-centrist platform he’s in the process of sketching out, they’ll find themselves marginalized and their policy goals overlooked. It’s time to encourage them to push back – like Winnipeg NDP candidate Matt Henderson did yesterday:
Winnipeg South Centre NDP candidate Matt Henderson believes Canada has a responsibility to the planet to seriously question whether any more of the oilsands should be developed.
Henderson is the second NDP candidate since the election began to sound off against the oilsands and it is sure to cause another furor…
“At what point do we as a society say, OK, that’s enough, let’s leave stuff in the ground, and we won’t be bullied by people who say, ‘Well, we’re gonna lose jobs,’ because I think we can be really, really innovative and creative in terms of how we create energy,” Henderson is quoted as saying in a transcript of the show.
He told the Free Press today he doesn’t understand why it’s controversial to question “our existence within the biosphere.”
“If we just go blindly and see economic growth as the only activity on this planet, that’s controversial,” Henderson said. “If you question it you’re labelled a radical but I think it’s radical not to.”
The war for the soul of the NDP continues – and regardless of which side emerges triumphant, the national struggle against the tar sands and pipelines will continue. Kudos to all those who have put pressure on the federal leaders on this vital issue during the campaign so far. Solidarity!