Alberta Politics
Protesters in Edmonton blocked a staircase for an hour last week to show their support for opponents of a gas pipeline across traditional Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

We do face a national crisis in Canada; it’s not caused by a few non-violent Indigenous blockades

Posted on February 18, 2020, 12:19 am
11 mins

We do face a serious national crisis in Canada. It is not caused by a few rail and road  blockades by First Nations activists and their allies, however. Nor is it caused by environmentalists to some of whom the grave issues facing Indigenous Canadians may be secondary but who view any enemy of their enemy as their friend.

It is the result of the apparent fact many adherents of Canada’s conservative movement seem to have lost their faith in democracy and due process, essential ingredients to the rule of law they keep talking about.

Andrew Scheer, possibly the weakest Conservative leader since Confederation (Photo: Andre Forget, Andrew Scheer/Flickr).

Anybody reading their mad utterances about the “crisis” caused by a small number of blockades in support of opponents of a pipeline across traditional Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia by, as they keep saying, a small number of activists, has to know this is true.

Seriously, prominent people here in Alberta, and this would include holders of responsible elected office and members of the Order of Canada, are publicly advocating full-blown military suppression of opposition to major hydrocarbon projects, and in a few cases getting very close to calling for open treason and the violent removal of our elected national government.

Former Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell, dealt a terrible hand by her predecessor (Photo: Skcdoenut, Wikipedia).

This may represent an extreme fringe — although a well funded and well connected one. But I doubt there is a single Conservative politician in the province of Alberta who is not advocating military or paramilitary police action to bring an immediate end to the blockades on the dubious and speculative grounds they are “costing Canada billions” in lost business revenue.

I challenge any Conservative politician who thinks I am wrong about this and agrees that a violent end to the blockades will cost Canada far more in treasure, blood and reputation, not to mention public safety, to speak up now as a patriotic imperative.

This really is a situation serious enough to warrant the prime minister cancelling a Caribbean holiday. And, given the number of people who seem to be drinking this poisonous brew, he may need to give up several.

Former Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, honourable, but insufficiently wily for success (Photo: The Star, Creative Commons).

Rail traffic appears to have been stopped in eight locations across the country. At least two of these disruptions have ended, and only three or four could be called honest-to-god blockades, the rest not much more than disturbances that slowed rail traffic for a short time.

So how much are these disturbances actually costing Canada? I have no idea, but I can guarantee it is nothing like the economic apocalypse claimed by high-profile Conservative politicians and their media echo chamber to support their demand for an immediate violent end to this situation.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Moreover, if there is an actual economic crisis brewing, there is some reason to suspect it may be the result of manipulation of the blockades by rail companies that have stopped operating in areas where there are no blockades and no extraordinary safety concerns. We saw this same specious threat used by big business during last fall’s rail strike by Canadian National rail crews, which also had Conservatives screaming for an instant and authoritarian suspension of the collective bargaining process. Who says it isn’t happening again?

If you think I’m nuts to suggest this crisis isn’t as severe as we’re daily being told, I challenge you to consider how many times Alberta Premier Jason Kenney alone lied in the past couple of years. And his is actually one of the more reasoned voices in this right-wing cacophony!

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council).

Instead of propaganda like this disgusting recent CTV report, which actually predicts a national shortage of bread, Canadians need a reasoned assessment of how much the blockades are really costing, and how long-term the impact will likely be. I would suggest this should be a matter of urgent national priority for the federal government or even some honourable media organization, if such a thing still exists.

A violent response to these peaceful blockades will lead to violence in response, and far more economic damage, than the prime minister’s strategy of letting the situation peter out. And remember, there are nearly 50,000 kilometres of rail line in Canada, so it’s not as if there is a shortage of targets.

Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, as painted circa 1815 by Thomas Lawrence (Image: Public Domain).

Indigenous Canadians have been lied to, betrayed and abused so many times their forbearance and patience with those of us of immigrant stock is truly remarkable. A military “solution” to suit the desires of an extremist minority concentrated in Western Canada is exactly what our country does not need.

So what is going on? I suspect Canadian movement conservatives collectively started to lose their minds circa 2015, when they lost two major elections, one nationally and the other here in Alberta, that despite voter fatigue with their rule they thought they had a reasonable chance of winning.

This set in motion the double reverse hostile takeover of Alberta’s Conservative parties by their extremist wing, in particular the more moderate Progressive Conservative Party that had ruled Alberta for more than four decades. A purge of “Red Tories” from positions of influence that had already happened federally under Stephen Harper’s rule followed in Alberta.

There are now very few moderate voices left in the United Conservative Party or the Conservative Party of Canada, and the latter’s current leadership candidates obviously feel they have no choice but to truckle to the party’s extremists.

Moreover, they seem to have become persuaded the easiest route to power is constant lazy and destructive vilification of the prime minister and our compatriots in Quebec and British Columbia. After all, this almost worked last fall for Andrew Scheer, possibly the weakest Conservative leader since Confederation, an assessment that includes Joe Clark and even Kim Campbell, who was dealt a terrible hand by her predecessor Brian Mulroney.

Barry Goldwater, Republican candidate in the 1964 U.S. presidential election (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, Wikipedia).

After the Canadian Conservative electoral losses of 2015 came the Trump revolution in the U.S. Republican Party from which they concluded, to rephrase the late Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, that extremism in defence of power is no vice, let alone an impediment to electoral success.

Then, to complete the perfect storm, came Doug Ford’s 2018 success in Ontario and Mr. Kenney’s in 2019 in Alberta, followed by the federal election campaign that, despite a weak and vulnerable leader, Conservative party activists had convinced themselves they were going to win thanks to their 24/7 attacks on Justin Trudeau.

The two provincial elections gave the impression a manipulative campaign characterized by outright lies and extremist rhetoric would work. The result of the second was bitter disillusionment when the same tactics failed nationally, although, as the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo, it was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.

The narrow loss in the federal election was the moment, I think, Canada’s Conservatives completely lost their stuff.

We now have a national Opposition party that has lost faith in the democratic process, demands violent and authoritarian responses to any and all economic frustrations no matter how insignificant, gins up regional separatist movements in hopes of short-term political gain, and has almost entirely put its electoral and public engagement strategies in the hands of extremists and dishonest social media manipulators.

That truly is a national crisis with the potential to cause great harm, economic and moral, to our country.

22 Comments to: We do face a national crisis in Canada; it’s not caused by a few non-violent Indigenous blockades

  1. Kang

    February 18th, 2020

    It should be noted the Wet’suwe’ten did offer the company an alternative route on their land which was already disturbed. The detour added a very small extra distance and brought the line closer to the town of Smithers. Naturally the company would prefer to spend less money than more, but the incremental cost on the project would be small. The Trudeau Cabinet should instruct the company to take the Wet’suwe’ten up on their offer and get on with the work if they want to. I say that because the LNG market may no longer be there since Russia has completed its natural gas line into China and points beyond. Australia’s LNG exports are just limping along now.

    As to the silly and worse Conservatives. No matter how many pipelines are built, the time of big oil and gas booms is over. But even if there is never another tar sands plant or pipeline built, Alberta will still have a huge amount of oil and gas production that will make this province a very comfortable place for a very long time. Unless you screw it up with austerity or worse.

    Reply
    • Sandi Nishikawa

      February 22nd, 2020

      Kang, I read the reasons why the route that the Hereditary Chiefs was not considered. The route would have been 77-89 Km longer and would have an additional 8 watercourse crossings. As well this route is also very close to communities. So if this is truly about the environment then it seems to me a shorter route with fewer watercourse crossings makes more sense. Having read extensively on this from both sides (elected council and Hereditary Chiefs) it seems this may be less about the environment and more about the control of the benefits from the CGL. Three of the Chief from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en have history of exploiting their positions to benefit themselves and their followers and not benefiting the community as a whole. The proponent of the CGL has put the benefits in the hands of the band councils that have signed on to the project. The band councils were elected by their members, they are not Chiefs due to lineage. The band councils also have to deal with the day to day operations and issues with in the band. They are the ones dealing with poverty, unemployment, substance abuse issues and suicides. Although I know that the FN form of governance is complicated and may do not respect the elected band councils, as an outsider it seems to me that the benefits should benefit the whole community.

      There is also a question of just who is a Hereditary Chief as well. Three female Chiefs were stripped of their titles and were replace by members that may or may not be Wet’suwet’en (depending on the source you read). I am under the impression it is only the previous chief that selects his/her replacement. Now if I am wrong I apologize in advance.

      Reply
      • Don Fodor

        February 23rd, 2020

        SN – For someone who claims to have studied the topic “extensively” you appear to either be ignorant of Canadian law with regard to Aboriginal title or choose to avoid the topic and its consequences.
        ” The proponent of the CGL has put the benefits in the hands of the band councils that have signed on to the project.” – This statement indicates the kernel of the problem. CGL is not empowered to determine who is the legal representative of the Wet’suwet’en entitled to give consent for off-reserve land usage.
        I expect, like myself, you are not a member of the Wet’suwet’en nation and thus I think it is essential that we not impose settler interference upon that nation with regard to how they conduct their governance.
        We have more than enough corruption, dishonesty and inequality in settler governance to occupy several lifetimes.

        Reply
        • Death and Gravity

          February 27th, 2020

          If we are treat with a sovereign nation, the representatives have to be able to make deals that will stick, and in order do so they have to be politically legitimate. The question is, how to determine who the legitimate representatives are….this is up to the Wet’suwet’en themselves, but the determination clearly needs to be made. The mere fact of hereditary position is not a defensible criteria for political legitimacy in the modern world.

          Reply
  2. Just Me

    February 18th, 2020

    These so called blockades are no more than mere tempests in a few teapots. However, it’s the railway operators that are turning this into a full blown crisis by choosing to not move their trains. Why? Legal liabilities, of course. And they will not move until the feds do something. PMJT knows that to force a confrontation will cause an Oka-like situation. Turning the police or the military loose on the protestors will have repercussions unimaginable; better to negotiate and wait. The trains will move again, once the railway operators decide that they are being far too cautious.

    As for the CPC, being the mad dogs they are, they are calling for violence and blood. They are even threatening to choke off long awaited recognition of Indigenous people’s treaty rights and claims in the name of law and order. I was amused when fake opposition leader, declaring that if he was PM, there would be swift action against those who would dare challenge his vision. Fortunately, Canadians denied the CPC the right to govern, and Scheer has been kicked to the curb by his own party. He calls on protestors to “check their privilege” — that’s pretty rich coming from someone who has enjoyed nothing but privilege his whole life.

    The usual alt-right suspects are calling for justice at the point of a gun and the blow of a baton, even though the protests are diminishing and the blockades are ending. It will break their hearts that civil war was averted, because no one else wants one.

    I have no doubt that once all this ends, securing the peace will be declared PMJT’s finest hour, even though I he had to do was wait and keep calm.

    Reply
  3. Ken Larsen

    February 18th, 2020

    A shortage of bread? Talk about hysterical nonsense. There will not be a bread shortage for a very long time even if every train in the country stops. Every flour mill has grain storage for several weeks, if not months of grain milling and local grain elevators are filled with several years worth of Canadian consumption. Most are a short truck trip from mills in Ontario and the east. Bread and other perishable items have always moved by truck. There is also a gigantic flour mill in Calgary and if my memory serves, one in Edmonton as well.

    Oh, and not to worry about beer. That “little” malting plant at Alix has the capacity to supply malt for roughly 25 million bottles of beer and the one at Biggar might even be called “gigantic.” As our friend Farmer B pointed out, trucking grain to them from local farms is done all the time.

    Now as of Friday last week the Port Terminals at Vancouver were at 67% capacity and there were 39 grain ships lined up. 9 of those were loading, another 8 were next in line. 21 were sitting at anchor at Vancouver Island much to the annoyance of the cottagers. So it is SNAFU in Vancouver because of the incompetence of the grain companies. A few late or delayed trains are not going to make much difference there for the coming couple of weeks. Oh, and as of tonight, CN has laid off a total of 10 workers down in the Maritimes. Hardly the train apocalypse although they did cut passenger rail service across the country to annoy the easterners who actually have passenger rail service.

    Country elevators are at 81% capacity, but farmer deliveries are down indicating the incompetence extends from the port Terminals to the Country elevator managers. Could it be most of them are owned by the same companies and all of them share a similar corporate culture of making their profits at the expense of farmers? Oh say it ain’t so! Nothing like pretending your elevator is nearly full to scare farmers into selling cheap and making the gullible ones feel special when they are allowed to deliver. Well, that’s all for now: “Situation Normal etc.”

    Reply
    • Farmer Brian

      February 18th, 2020

      I am curious Ken, you constantly talk about how incompetent Canadian grain companies are. In 2011-2012(the last year of CWB control)there was 19,823,600 tonnes of western grains were exported through the ports at Vancouver and Prince Rupert. By 2017-2018 this had increased to 27,142,100 tonnes, an increase of 36.92%. Definitely going backwards! I am sure you will tell me how I wrong.

      Reply
      • Ken Larsen

        February 20th, 2020

        Dear Farmer Brian: Aside from a couple of small mom and pop operations with a trivial presence at port, the grain companies are foreign owned and controlled.

        Exports have been trending up over the past ten years because overall prairie yields have increased by about 30% over that time period. This is almost entirely due to better grain varieties and farmers using better seeding and fertilizing equipment.

        But that extra production has come at a cost to farmers caused by the logistical incompetence of the grain companies which is built into a system without the Wheat Board.

        The grain companies are not evil; they are just seeking profits and do not cooperate to load grain ships. So, each company sends ships back to anchor off Vancouver Island several times a trip while they refill their terminal.
        The CWB avoided this huge demurrage cost to farmers because it sent trains from various inland elevators to fill more than one terminal with the grain to fill customers’ ships. That way they did not have to be sent back to anchor several times. On the income side customers paid a premium to CWB farmers for the better service.

        Now we pay for that structural logistical incompetence with lower prices. This is the new normal until we restore the Wheat Board or introduce draconian regulations.

        I apologize to our host for diverting attention from the serious issue of the Conservatives/ UCP stoking hatred and calling for the use of violence against largely symbolic protests defending renewable land resources against a non-renewable sunset industry. Given the mess left by the oil and gas sector on Alberta farm and ranch land, I can certainly understand why the Wet’suwe’ten have no desire to have a pipeline forced on them.

        Reply
        • Death and Gravity

          February 22nd, 2020

          What’s this you tell Ken? That “Farmer Brian” is a propagandist who shelters himself beneath a veneer of sneering civility?

          Reply
  4. Dave

    February 18th, 2020

    I do think Canada’s Federal Conservatives have lost it. They are so desperate to take power from the Liberals and their failure to do so in the last election has distorted whatever little sense of judgement they had before, even more. So perhaps they are doubling down on things that did not work in 2015 or 2019, like all the over the top character attacks on Trudeau.

    Some free advise to the Conservative that they really should take. At this point Canadians do not need to be convinced Trudeau has flaws. They do need to be convinced Conservatives would be any better and so far, they are not buying it.

    Maybe Conservatives look at the US and see the excessive partisanship, lying and lack of any morals as the road to success. Most Canadians are actually repulsed by all this and for a lot of reasons this approach will not work so well here. So the Conservatives have manufactured yet another crisis of the week, along with some friends in the mainstream media – same old tactics and approach.

    Perhaps the next Conservative leader will have a bit more imagination and integrity than Scheer. I know its a lot to ask for, but really the bar is not that high.

    Reply
  5. Farmer Brian

    February 18th, 2020

    The Coastal Link pipeline is a project that is within the boundaries of B.C. and not subject to federal jurisdiction. While this is true the real issue is that the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs do not want this pipeline across their lands period. Listening to Michael Enright interview Grand Chief Stewart Phillips on the weekend on Sunday Edition this was abundantly clear. I get the impression that you believe these demonstrations will eventually fizzle out, maybe they will but I am more interested in what is going to happen to the $40 billion LNG plant when they realize despite all the consultation Justin Trudeau bragged about when it was announced that getting this pipeline built is going to be a big problem.

    Reply
    • Kang

      February 18th, 2020

      It would not be a big problem if the pipeline company simply respected the First Nation, whose legal authority per-dates Canadian law by thousands of years, and takes the route they were offered by the First Nation. See my comment above.

      Reply
    • Scotty on Denman

      February 19th, 2020

      How do you know the Wet’suwet’en people don’t want the CGL pipeline, “period”? Conservatives’ talking points seem to be at cross purposes: on one hand they say the Wet’suwet’en (and all indigenous people who they allege are against every resource development and are conspiring with foreign agencies to shut Canada down…) are against a pipeline, any pipeline, all pipelines, but on the other hand Conservatives and affiliated orgs have been continually pumping out popular metrics suggesting that indigenous people actually want pipelines—even a majority of Wet’suwet’en people, they say. The correct statement of fact is that the Wet’suwet’en Nation (and many other Canadian citizens—a growing number) does not want the Crown to sidestep the rules for developing resources in its traditional territory when there is no treaty between the two claimants (the Crown and the Wet’suwet’en Nation). Crown malfeasance is “the real issue,” not pipelines.

      “…going to be a big problem”? Bit late out of the blocks, don’t you think? —it’s a big problem right now and has been ever since the Crown ignored protocols set out by the SCoC’s interpretation of the Constitution for developing resources in traditional territories that have no treaty and therefore have unextinguished Aboriginal claims on them. I should think investors would be much relieved if the provincial and federal Crown governments commit to obeying the law and start consulting meaningfully with the Wet’suwet’en Nation like they should have done in the first place.

      The protesters are not a monolithic group and consist of supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s complaint interim to treaty, supporters of general Aboriginal Rights interim to treaties and of Aboriginal Rights irrespective of treaties, supporters of Aboriginal treaty rights (that is, where treaties have been settled), supporters of “Non-Status Indians” and Métis rights, supporters of a clean environment and opponents to the fossil-fuel industry, opponents of the CGL pipeline in specific, and supporters of the rule of law and the Constitution. If the Crown get’s its shit together and does what it should have done in the first place, I believe many of these protests will fizzle out—certainly much of the specifically Wet’suwet’en protest.

      Finally, Michael Enright’s interview was uncharacteristically callous, inconsiderate, and hackneyed with Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ Grand Chief Phillip—who, BTW, despite the respect he certainly deserves, does not speak for the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern BC. His greatest concern is with TMX which will (if completed) traverse his own Nation’s traditional territory in southern BC.

      Reply
  6. Abs

    February 18th, 2020

    We are teetering dangerously on the precipice of totalitarianism here in Alberta. While friends of oil (well) orphans (FOO) tweet daily about sending in the army to crack skulls, I’ve been checking off the list, conveniently provided by Wikipedia for such occasions. Let’s see: fraudulent elections, personality cultism, propaganda campaigns, restriction of individual opposition to the state and its claims, absolute control over the economy, etc. Now I have to be careful, because I might mistakenly take this list to the grocery store. Fat lot of good that would be when I forget to buy bread, which I will blame on the FOO fighters.

    So I urge the FOO fighters to Keep on the Sunny Side (a song by The Whites, which cannot be a coincidence). There couldn’t be a better time for this to happen, in a way. The Chinese economy is on hold, and the question is what container ships bringing goods from China that we cannot possibly live without? There won’t be a backlog of merchandise at the ports before long. And we have trucks! Under-employed yelllow vesters could possibly save the day with their big rigs that are quite capable of making the trip across this great land. How perfect is that?

    Reply
  7. Political Ranger

    February 18th, 2020

    Yup! … nailed it!

    There is no such a thing as a progressive Conservative left in Canada. Any such person who feels a connection or has any fealty to such characteristics of that previous political ideology would, today, be swearing off any connection whatsoever to the current manifestations running under the banner of conservative.
    There is only one real looney fringe political movement in Canada today. It is the conservative movement. Of whatever stripe. Under whatever name.

    And these people are dangerous. Regardless of what they espouse, they are fascists or proto-fascists. Proof is in their policy prescriptions.

    Reply
  8. Just Me

    February 18th, 2020

    Judging by Andrew Scheer’s unhinged screaming babbling call for blood and war against Indigenous peoples, all of it to the applause of the CPC caucus, only proves that the CONs are so messed they will do anything, even civil war, to remain relevant. Scheer was petulant about not being invited to caucus with PMJT and the other opposition leaders, and Trudeau called him out for it. Scheer decides to blow a gasket and does it publically. Then, he has the nerve to declare that by breaking the blockades with force, he is defending Indigenous interests. Why is this guy still in the CPC caucus?

    Reply
  9. Helen McD

    February 18th, 2020

    Resist!

    Reply
  10. Farmer Dave

    February 19th, 2020

    It’s amazing that the worst Premier in Alberta’s history, Jason Kenney, and the worst Conservative leader in Canada’s history, Andrew Scheer, are not out on the front lines of the protests knocking them down, where is their courage. And to lie, being a fake Conservative Party made up from Canada’s bible belt religious far right, Preston Manning’s Reform and Alliance Party, they have caused Western Alienation and should be ashamed what they are doing. The former Progressive Conservative Party was a decent political party and at that time Canadian’s had at least two reasonable parties to vote for.

    Reply
    • Sandi Nishikawa

      February 22nd, 2020

      You couldn’t be more right Farmer Dave. Thankfully the CPC did not win the federal election and a calmer cooler hand is being applied to the situation. I watched his speech last night on the news, he is absolutely right until the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs come to the table there can be no meaningful dialogue. If the police and troops are sent in this will set reconciliation back at least a decade if not more. The amount of racism I have seen on social media directed toward Indigenous people is appalling.

      Reply
  11. Art

    February 19th, 2020

    Pehaps Sonya, Jason and Andrew can learn from Bibi how to deal with people who have had their lands and rights taken by force. The methods used would cetainly appeal to some UPC supporters here in AB.

    Reply
  12. jerrymacgp

    February 20th, 2020

    I’m not quite as sanguine as our host about the impact of the numerous rail blockades on the Canadian economy. I think Western grain farmers — wh have already had a tough year — and the perishable food industry, in particular, have ample cause to be concerned about the ability of Canada’s railways to transport their products to ports, and food to our grocery stores. I do feel there is a crisis in progress, although not one as desperate as conservatives would have us believe. I’m also not among those who are hysterically calling for the use of armed force against people engaged in unarmed, non-violent civil disobedience.

    Certainly it is true that the federal government could, if it chose to, end the blockades tomorrow. All they would need to do, is order the RCMP to back off from Wet’suwet’en traditional territory, and order Coastal Gas Link to halt construction & re-route around that territory. The real issue is, is that the message we want to send? That if enough people block transportation routes in Canada for long enough, the Government of Canada will cancel lawfully-permitted infrastructure projects?

    Remember, if opponents go to court to stop a pipeline, power line or highway, and lose, they can appeal to a higher court, and — as we have seen with other projects — the courts may order construction halted until certain conditions are met, or even stop it outright. If the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs & their allies across the country succeed in halting the project, in what court can the proponents appeal that decision?

    This whole thing is a major quandary for the federal government, & I don’t pretend to know how to solve it. But, guns, riot police & SWAT teams aren’t the answer. There has to be a better way.

    Reply
  13. Daniel A MacDonald

    February 22nd, 2020

    With a country as big as Canada why do we need to put a pipe line across Native land?

    Reply

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