Alberta Premier Rachel Notley should bundle up when she comes to Vancouver next week to sell the merits of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. She is in for a frosty reception.
There is no bigger opponent of the pipeline than the city's mayor, Gregor Robertson. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the project's approval this week, Mr. Robertson didn't hide his disappointment. It was clear the pair's bromance had taken a hit.
In a statement, Mr. Robertson talked about how Vancouver had the strongest and greenest economy in the country. He boasted about the tens of thousands of jobs that had been created in the city in the past year alone. All of which, he contended, could be jeopardized by the Trans Mountain project.
It's safe to assume that many in the rest of the country were seething as they listened to the mayor talk about how sweet life is in Shangri-la, where residents can bike to work 12 months a year. Unfortunately, it isn't so grand everywhere else.
In Alberta, tens of thousands of people have been without work for 18 months. Many of them have used up their employment insurance benefits and have moved on to welfare. On the other side of the country, in Newfoundland, things are even worse. Thousands of workers there depended on the oil patch for employment too. They are sitting at home, idle, losing their homes to foreclosure and their trucks to debt collectors.
People in Vancouver need to get out of their idyllic little bubble and see how things are in the rest of the country. Not everyone has lucked into a small fortune as a result of home ownership. Many people across this country live day to day.
Of course, in a perfect world we wouldn't need a Kinder Morgan. There would be no pipelines. There would be no need to upset the good people of Vancouver. Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau does not have the luxury of governing on the basis of what is good for one small region of the country alone. He needs to take a broader view. Trying to navigate the intraprovincial waters of environmental stewardship is a fraught endeavour.
There is not a hope in Hades the Prime Minister could sell a pan-national carbon strategy without approving at least one pipeline. There is not a chance Ms. Notley could bring in the most radical climate action measures her province has ever known without something in return. Politicians are compelled to make imperfect tradeoffs every day. And Mr. Trudeau was just forced to make one: In order to achieve a consensus on fighting climate change, to finally put a price on carbon across the country, he had to give up something. It was a pipeline.
It doesn't mean the country's commitments in Paris are now blown. No one knows that for sure. There are credible climate scientists who still believe it is possible but will take a lot of work. Yes, it will. And it could well mean there is anger and disappointment ahead for those now cheering the Kinder Morgan decision. That is the way it works.
Those opposing the pipeline need to take a longer view. What is happening in Alberta – the phase-out of coal-fired generating plants, an eventual carbon levy of $50 a tonne, a firm cap on oil sands emissions – was unimaginable even five years ago. Getting the country's biggest environmental laggard to take this kind of leadership leap is significant. But it is also an achievement that would be impossible without a pipeline.
People can say Mr. Trudeau's Liberals are now going to lose every seat in Vancouver because of this decision. Okay, so that happens and the Conservatives return to power. Do environmentalists and others opposed to this decision believe they will be further ahead if that happens? The Conservatives have shown a strong commitment to many things, but the environment is not one of them.
People can threaten to make Kinder Morgan their Standing Rock, to use any means possible to thwart the project, but if they think it is going to advance their cause in the rest of the country, they are delusional. The worst possible move Mr. Trudeau could make on the environment would be to capitulate on Kinder Morgan in the face of violent protests. The national backlash it would create would be fierce and long-lasting.
It's okay for the people of Vancouver to demonstrate their disappointment – to send a message to the rest of the country. It just shouldn't be "Let them eat cake."