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"We must continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to a low-carbon economy," Trudeau argued on Wednesday. (Photo: Don MacKinnon, AFP/Getty Images)

Harper 2.0? Trudeau Says Canada Needs More Tar Sands Pipelines

The Liberal prime minister argues that building more pipelines to transport dirty tar sands oil is necessary to fund Canada's transition to a green future

Nika Knight

Sparking outcry from environmentalist and Indigenous groups, Justin Trudeau took a pro-oil stance and argued for more controversial pipelines to carry Canada's dirty tar sands oil to coastal ports, in comments at a sustainability conference in Vancouver on Wednesday.

"We want the low-carbon economy that continues to provide good jobs and great opportunities for all Canadians," said Canada's Liberal prime minister, as Elizabeth McSheffrey reported in the National Observer. "To get there, we need to make smart strategic investments in clean growth and new infrastructure, but we must also continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to a low-carbon economy."

However, Green party leader Elizabeth May charged back at the same conference, "If you have an economic strategy for the oilsands that’s premised on high volumes of export on low-value product, you both ship jobs off-shore and drive up greenhouse gases. Those are inconsistent aims."

The Global Series 16 conference centers on sustainability and business, describing itself as "North America's Largest Environmental Business Summit." All of Canada's premiers are attending the talks on sustainability and business taking place March 2-3.

In contrast to the prime minister's attempt to make an economic argument for pipelines, social justice group the Council of Canadians noted that "the average renewable energy investment creates four times as many jobs as the same investment in the fossil fuel economy," as the group called for more renewable energy jobs on Thursday.

The prime minister's statements were made only months after he declared "Canada is back, my good friends," to delegates at the COP21 climate conference in Paris in November, signaling what activists hoped would be a transition to a more sustainable Canada as he signed the historic commitment to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Trudeau's party's campaign was built on the Liberals' opposition to his pro-oil predecessor Stephen Harper, who heartily supported the nation's controversial tar sands industry that critics saw as largely responsible for the country's failure to uphold the terms of previous climate change agreements.

During his campaign, Trudeau emphasized his condemnation of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would have transported tar sands oil to the B.C. coast. But activists still lobbied Trudeau to take a tougher position on pipelines after his party ousted Harper's Conservatives in October, as the young prime minister's stance was not entirely clear.

Trudeau's did announce tougher environmental reviews for the projects in December, but his promises appeared to lack teeth when a federal audit unconvered "systematic failures" within the country's National Energy Board that conducts the pipeline approval process.

The prime minister's talk in Vancouver this week marked a shift from the grand promises made in Paris: "The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one," Trudeau argued, according to the Vancouver Sun. "We need both to reach our goal."

After his talk, the National Observer reported, Trudeau refused to answer reporters' questions about the growth in tar sands mining that would inevitably be fueled by the construction of new pipelines.

A Ricochet editorial charged Thursday:

The prime minister is wrong. Hard choices must be made, between the interests of fossil fuel corporations and the possibility of a decent collective future for Canadians and people all over the world.

Trudeau was also criticized by First Nations on Wednesday, as aboriginal leaders stormed out of a climate meeting with the prime minister after it "fell to shambles," according to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation chief Allan Adam lamented that "the meeting didn’t include any talks of taking care of mother earth," APTN reported, and "instead the focus was placed on economic development and transitioning to a green economy."

On Thursday, the prime minister meets with Canada's premiers to create a national climate plan for the country. A campaign manager for 350.org argued that a 100% renewable energy economy that honors Indigenous rights is possible for Canada, but "only if the government listen to people, not pipeline companies and big polluters."


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