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Whistlerites protest Kinder Morgan bailout by federal government

Saturday afternoon demonstration held on final day of G7 finance meeting


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More than 40 protesters gathered in front of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) on Saturday afternoon, June 2, hoping to get the attention of Canada's federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau while he was in town for a three-day meeting of G7 finance ministers.

The group brought out their pots, pans, whistles, drums, and signs for a noisy demonstration to protest the federal government's Trans Mountain pipeline project. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government's plans to bail out the Kinder Morgan project by spending $4.5 billion to purchase it and take over the $7.4 billion expansion project on Tuesday, May 29.

"Taxpayers are shocked," said Whistler local Angela Mellor, who organized the demonstration. "It seems like just a headlong rush to put a huge amount of money into a project that we know nothing about—there's been no debate in parliament. How can they go ahead and give this huge amount of public money to a project that's a step backwards?

"It's not the direction we want to go in and it's not the direction that science tells us we have to go in."

Although a final press conference originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon at the SLCC—the same time as the protest—was seemingly shifted to earlier in the day, demonstrators said Morneau nonetheless got the message.

"At 11:30 (a.m.), they were leaving. They got to see us; he got to see that one 'Separate oil and state' banner," Mellor recalled.

Set up across from the entrance to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, residents carried banners clearly displaying messages like, "No Kinder Morgan. No consent, no pipeline," "Stop the bailout," and "No more tankers."

The timing of the G7 finance meeting—merely days after the government's controversial pipeline announcement—as well as its theme, "Investing in growth that works for everyone," was "super ironic," said Mellor.

That led concerned locals to feel "like this was an opportunity we couldn't pass up," explained protester Pina Belpario.

"I felt like we needed to do something to let Morneau know that we're not happy with their decision to bail out Kinder Morgan ... As a taxpayer, I have a problem with my money going there, and then there's the environmental issues as well that compounded—we had to do something.

"I didn't want (Morneau) to be here and then go away without having heard from us."

For Lil'wat First Nation member Archie Peters, the visit was a long-awaited opportunity to voice his frustrations with the government.

The government's decision making "takes away our land, it takes away our rights, it takes away the minerals and oils out of our land, gives it to the Queen's bank and leaves us to starve on our lands and not allow us to do the things that we want to do," Peters expressed. "I do not want them to build any more pipelines."

Longtime local Rob Neilson, who was a snowboard instructor on Whistler Blackcomb with Canada's now-Prime Minister Trudeau in the '90s, said he showed up to the protest because he's disappointed with the decisions his former colleague's government is making.

"I thought he would stand up behind all of this like, 'we don't want any of that'... now, he's running our country and (it seems like) he feels that he's tied up and backed into a corner where he can't change anything." Neilson said. "Simply just say no."

While some expected a crowd to make the trip up from Vancouver, the group was made up of "95 per cent locals," estimated one attendee.

"I'm very impressed with Whistler's ability to have a say," said Belpario. "I think a lot of the (G7) ministers might have thought that this is a bubble they can escape to, but we want to let them know that we're listening."

For Peters, having the community's support at the demonstration "proves the point that I've always said. There's only one race on earth, and that is the human race. There is no red, there is no yellow, there is no black, there is no white; there is only the human race and we need to learn to speak to one another and come to terms."

While Mellor said she was pleased by the local turnout, Whistler's Ash Conrad said he was disappointed that more people did not show up to participate in the protest—he thought the crowd would be bigger.

"I think a lot of people agree; (many) more than is represented here. I'm not sure why more people don't come out to things they feel strongly about, because when you're out and about, if you do talk about these things, it seems like most everyone is the same mindset ... I don't understand why it's not louder here."