More than 800 businesses in B.C. and across Canada inked a petition this week asking B.C. Premier John Horgan to continue resisting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline for a cool $4.5 billion.
The federal government announced its intention to buy the pipeline this past Tuesday, sparking backlash from both the public and private sectors in the days following.
Small businesses from across the country have signed the petition, citing environmental concerns and uncertain economic returns as the deal’s main detractors. Other businesses that are supporting the campaign include Nature’s Path Foods Inc., the RED Academy, Adventure Canada, Latitude International Education, among others.
“The inevitable transition to a clean economy has already begun. Kinder Morgan’s project is out of step with the future prosperity of Canada, and out of sync with the wishes of Indigenous people. We applaud your resolve to stand up for our shared interests, and to protect communities, environment and local economy from a dangerous and unnecessary pipeline project,” the letter states.
According to Michael Rowlands, president & CEO at Junxion Strategy (a signatory on the petition), the business community as a whole acknowledges that economic prosperity can no longer take priority to climate-change concerns — especially because worsening environmental conditions could actually mean a far greater economic downturn in the long run, he said.
“I think it’s difficult to disentangle the fiscal argument from the environmental argument. I think oil-and-gas executives will concede that we need to navigate our economy away from our reliance on fossil fuels over the next few decades,” he told Global News.
He went on to explain, however, that many businesses who’ve signed onto the petition don’t see the pipeline as a smart investment for the government, independent of environmental concerns. The Liberal Party and Kinder Morgan have both been steadfast in claiming that the Trans Mountain Pipeline will play a key role in gaining a foothold with the Asian market. Rowlands isn’t convinced this is the case.
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He explained that it’s much easier for Asian countries like China to import oil for local fossil fuels from countries like Saudi Arabia rather than to ship it from across Canada, on top of rumours that the country’s national oil and gas firm Oremco may potentially go public this year. These reasons, coupled with others, make the prospect of selling fossil fuels to Asian economies an unreliable prospect.
“I’m not sure that if this oil ever got to Asia, there’s actually a market for it, and if I’m investing out of the public purse, I want more certainty on the return on my investment. I don’t want entrepreneurial risk when we’re looking at a return on taxpayers’ money,” he said.
While the petition acknowledges that the Trans Mountain pipeline has the potential to create meaningful job growth in B.C., it counters that Canadian employment in the oil-and-gas industries has been steadily decreasing as alternatives such as solar and wind power became more affordable. Currently, only three per cent of Canadians work in oil-and-gas extraction nationally, and only a subset of that work in oil sands jobs.
Furthermore, a push towards social responsibility in the business community has encouraged leaders to integrate their revenue aspirations with their social and economic goals.
“Whereas historically, companies have externalized environmental impacts or the impacts on community, they’re being encouraged by this drive towards transparency and by the climate crisis to internalize those costs and really understand what the full accounting is on climate impacts,” said Rowlands.
Canadian businesses aren’t the only groups taking a stand against the pipeline.
Earlier this week, over 230 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) signed an open letter to Trudeau asking him and his government to reconsider their support of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The letter was published on May 24, five days before the announcement that the government would assume the costs of the pipeline was made.
David Turnbull, the communications director with Oil Change International, described why so many NGOs based around the world — from the U.K. to Ghana — have taken issue with Canada’s support for the pipeline.
“When we put this letter out for endorsement, we expected to get dozens of organizations on board and when we quickly saw that we have over 230 organizations, we were excited but I guess not terribly surprised. The tar sands have become an international issue and this pipeline is being watched by people around the world,” said Turnbull.
He told Global News that the goals Trudeau committed Canada to during negotiations of the Paris Agreement were much-admired by international onlookers, but that funding the Trans Mountain pipeline “flies absolutely in the face” of those goals.
“I think people are looking at the Trudeau government to see if they’re going to live up to the lofty words that they had in Paris, and right now, the answer’s ‘No,'” he added.
During the Paris negotiations, Canada, along with several other countries, committed to meet specific fossil-fuel emissions goals with the hope of reducing global warming to below 1.5 degrees C.
In addition, signatories to the open letter have expressed concern with B.C. Indigenous groups’ opposition to the pipeline. Indigenous peoples are currently suing the Canadian government over the approval of the pipeline expansion and have repeatedly expressed issue with the Liberal Party’s failure to properly consult them in the process.
In pledging to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline, the Canadian government is shouldering a $4.5-billion fee outright, along with approximately $7 billion in building fees and any additional costs that may come with protecting B.C.’s coastline from potential spills and environmental damage.
With that money, Rowlands said he’d rather see the Liberal Party bolster Canada’s knowledge economy in developing feasible solutions to climate change.
“If I were to take $4.5 billion and work with entrepreneurs across the country to develop clean-energy projects, companies, technologies, I’m very sure that with that amount of money, we could generate some remarkable new enterprises and develop some incredible technologies,” he said.
“We have a great knowledge economy in Canada, that is growing and that is world-renowned. We should be leaning on that and developing next-generation technologies and building a knowledge economy that can drive a clean, healthy, diverse, 21st-century economy for the country.”