Opinion » Eco Logic

When 'everything right' is wrong



Thursday, Aug. 30 could have been a typical B.C. day of late: yet another disheartening announcement that a legal challenge to the embattled Trans Mountain Pipeline—perhaps by Burnaby, Vancouver, the province, First Nations—had been denied by the courts.

Instead, it was a surprise celebration that left many of us walking on air, lost in a Northern Gateway-redux fog of wanting to hand out flowers and hug fellow protestors and truth-defenders in gratitude. Certainly there were enough heroes to go around when the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously struck down the pipeline's approval for the very reasons a majority of coastal British Columbians had protested it since Day 1—a flawed National Energy Board (NEB) review and insufficient consultation with First Nations.

Of course, the announcement also brought forth the familiar cast of villains dishonestly shilling the pipeline, and suddenly blame was like candy on Halloween—everyone handing it out to everyone else. Alberta opposition leader Jason Kenney to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Notley to Trudeau, Trudeau and Notley to Kenney and Stephen Harper.

Lost in this comic shuffle was the naked re-exposure of the hypocritical body politic this project has always been. Why, here were Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Rachel Notley falling over each other in efforts to insist the pipeline would still be built, while declaring they would examine the court ruling on consultation and try to fix it—overlooking that there's no such thing as "meaningful consultation" if the outcome is already decided.

Sadly, none of these pronouncements was more bafflegab-worthy that Notley's, who, in word and deed, has more or less averred that she has never been serious about anything except saving her soon-to-be-turfed political butt, signing onto a national climate plan only in exchange for a pipeline that completely obviates that plan, playing to Alberta's outrageous sense of energy entitlement.

In her address to the province Thursday night, Notley hung the court decision lei on the successive federal governments of Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau. And while these cabals are surely responsible for specific systemic failures, she also absurdly added "Alberta has done everything right and we've been let down."

If that doesn't smack of entitlement, what does? And what exactly does "done everything right" mean?

That Alberta was a team player for Canada's Paris commitments? Hardly. It's now abundantly clear—if it wasn't already—that Alberta didn't willingly sign on in a fit of noblesse oblige so much as opportunistically bargain its way to acquiescence with the backroom promise of a conduit that would allow it to crank up production in Mordor (aka the tar sands).

Notley then enthusiastically joined Trudeau in promulgating the hard-to-abide fiction (now widely debunked) that this was both necessary and in the "national interest," a phrase repeated ad nauseum. Yet every credible analyst crunching numbers around this ersatz horse-trade labelled it patently ridiculous, concluding that any expansion of Mordor and attendant upstream/downstream carbon emissions would negate the impact of even the heftiest carbon tax. In other words, it would be a wash at best.

This is functionally—and morally—equivalent to signing on to a national poverty reduction program only if you are allowed to lower the minimum wage to pay for it.

Notley's disingenuous stance on this is striking, and not just because she represents the typically more honest-minded NDP. In reality, she defended the flawed NEB review countless times in public when, like the Trudolts, she knew it to be inadequate on the environment, equivocal with respect to First Nations consultation based on the Northern Gateway legal precedent, with no significant improvement on the Harper model beyond allowing for more time before the government announced its (as we now know) predetermined go-ahead.

Notley's wounded crusader speech notwithstanding, she was fully complicit in this farcical process up until Thursday. That's because she also knew, as did the feds, that there was always a chance they would lose this last-ditch case. And so, crossing her fingers, Notley rolled the dice on Alberta's behalf, and lost. How is that doing "everything right?"

What remains now is the spite of self-pity (see also: threats to cut off fuel to B.C., wine embargo, etc. etc.), a spite deep and obvious enough to blithely doom Albertans, fellow Canadians and the rest of the planet with her pouty resignation from the climate plan, a metric perfectly captured in a headline from the satirical online site The Beaverton: "Notley sets fire to Banff National Park to protest pipeline ruling."

Leslie Anthony is a biologist, writer and author of several popular books on environmental science.