Hundreds of demonstrators are vowing a day of civil disobedience on Parliament Hill in a bid to counter the Harper government’s vigorous promotion of oil-sands exports to the United States.
Protesters are threatening to cross the RCMP’s security perimeter Monday and “sit down in a symbolic way to stand up against the Canadian tar sands,” echoing a series of protests in which 1,200 people were arrested in front of the White House last month.
“We have hundreds of people who have signed up to risk arrest,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, a campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
“At a time when we need to be fundamentally reducing our emissions, at a time when we need to be generating investments in zero-carbon energy technology, we’re allowing Big Oil and this Harper majority government to lead us on a backward path, which is destroying Canada’s image internationally,” he said.
The Official Opposition is also railing against the “uncontrolled expansion of the tar sands,” hoping to pressure the government into slowing down fossil-fuel development in Western Canada.
However, the NDP will not participate in the demonstration, planning instead to use its voice in the House of Commons to slam plans for the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport 700,000 barrels per day of bitumen from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refinery hub in the U.S.
“There are huge concerns when it comes to this pipeline in terms of both the environment and jobs,” said NDP MP Megan Leslie. “The U.S. gets all the jobs and we get the environmental devastations.”
Speaking about the Monday protest and the possibility of massive arrests, she said “it’s unfortunate that we are at a point where people feel all that is left to do is civil disobedience.”
The Conservative government has mounted a large-scale campaign in favour of energy exports, stating that Canada offers a safer and more ethical source of oil than countries such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
“We are the only country in the world that is a growing supplier of energy and that is a secure and democratic country,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an interview that ran on CNBC in the United States on Sunday.
“On every level, including environmental, the United States has no better supplier and partner when it comes to energy – it’s not even close – than it has with this country of Canada,” Mr. Harper said.
The U.S. State Department is launching hearings to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline would be in the U.S. national interest. It is widely expected to approve the project despite noisy opposition from activists and some American politicians who worry about its environmental impact.
The Canadian government and oil industry have argued that the Americans would be better served purchasing crude from their friendly, democratic neighbours than undemocratic, conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East.
The line of reasoning has sparked a war of words between Ottawa and Saudi Arabia, which has complained about an attack ad produced by a pro-industry group that has close ties to the Conservative government.
Environmental groups say the choice is not Saudi Arabia or Canada, but growing dependence on oil-sands bitumen or a cleaner energy future.
“I don’t buy this rhetoric about our oil being better than other oil,” said Ms. Leslie, who is the NDP’s environmental critic. “If that’s the point of unchecked expansion of the oil sands, why aren’t we looking at energy security for Canada? This is about jobs for the U.S.”
The union that represents many of the workers in Alberta’s oil patch has appeared on Parliament Hill to ask politicians to oppose the pipeline project. Although the pipeline would be exporting bitumen extracted in Canada, it is a job killer, said Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.