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Will Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests set the stage for what’s to come with TMX?

Justin Trudeau agrees to meet Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs ‘whenever they can’
WATCH: Justin Trudeau agrees to meet Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs ‘whenever they can’

As demonstrations in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs in opposition of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline project in northern B.C. halted rail traffic across the country for the fourteenth day on Wednesday, many have raised concerns that this is just a taste of what is to come as construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline (TMX) expansion project ramps up this spring.

During an emergency debate in the House of Commons Tuesday evening, Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, called the protests a “dress rehearsal” for TMX protests in the future.

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READ MORE: Indigenous land conflicts to persist unless sovereignty addressed, Wilson-Raybould says

“The current government has allowed something to fester that they didn’t pay attention to,” she said. “It lays at their feet.”

Last week, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shared similar concerns, calling the protests “ecocolonialism” from southern Canadians, “projecting their own political agenda.”

‘This is a dress rehearsal for illegal protests on pretty much any major project’: Kenney
‘This is a dress rehearsal for illegal protests on pretty much any major project’: Kenney

“This is not about Indigenous people. It’s not about carbon emissions. It’s about a hard-left ideology that is, frankly, opposed to the entire modern industrial economy,” Kenney said at a news conference.

“It’s about time that our police services demonstrated that this is a country that respects the rule of law.”

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The TMX project, which will see approximately 980 kilometres of new pipeline built, was approved by the Canadian government in June of 2019.

Construction of the government-owned pipeline is already underway in Alberta and at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C., with more work scheduled to begin this spring.

It is expected to be completed sometime in 2022.

However, the project has been met with considerable pushback, sparking protests and court challenges.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en protests — House of Commons holds emergency debate over rail blockades

Opponents warn of the greenhouse gas emission and oil spill risks of the pipeline, and say the project could leave the Canadian public holding the bag if it fails financially in unproven Asian markets.

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And, while Canada’s Federal court unanimously dismissed a challenge launched by four First Nations against the project earlier this month, opponents of the project have vowed to do whatever it takes to stop it from moving forward.

‘Human rights are not a partisan issue’: NDP MP Leah Gazan
‘Human rights are not a partisan issue’: NDP MP Leah Gazan

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the potential for more protests over the TMX line is something the Federal government is “very conscious of.”

I would say that most people in the country, when they think of blockades and demonstrations and disruptions, were more focused on TMX than they were on the LNG line up in British Columbia. So it’s been expected all along,” he said. “The difference is that [with] the TMX line, I expect there’s going to be a much larger contingent of environmentalists, people concerned about climate change.”

READ MORE: Hereditary chiefs say they won’t meet with ministers until RCMP detachment removed

Furthermore, in an interview with Global News’ The West Block on Sunday, Independent MP for Vancouver Granville, Jody Wilson Raybould, said demonstrations like the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests will happen again, unless the Canadian government actively works towards addressing Indigenous sovereignty.

“This situation that we’re seeing in Wet’suwet’en territory, as we’ve seen in other territories around major resource development projects, are going to continue to happen until we address the fundamental underlying reality, and of the inherent right of self-government of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that Indigenous Peoples can finally make their way and see themselves in our constitutional framework,” she said.

Speaking during Question Period on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is prepared to meet with the hereditary chiefs “whenever they want to,” in order to have “direct consultation.”

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But, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs said they will not meet with Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, Carolyn Bennett until RCMP officers are removed from a blockade in northern B.C.

Scheer slams Trudeau on rail crisis: All talk and no action
Scheer slams Trudeau on rail crisis: All talk and no action

And, according to Wiseman, while the threat of similar disruptive protests over the TMX like are likely not informing the government’s reaction to the current situation, how it is resolved could shape future protests.

“I think what unfolds now with respect to the courts, the police, the government and Indigenous groups, will influence how things play out with Trans Mountain in terms of demonstrations,” he said. “Because this will be something, whatever happens here — I don’t know if I want to use the word precedent — but it would be something of a reference point for how things get resolved, whether positively or negatively.”

Wiseman said it is a “very fraught situation” for the government, police and Indigenous communities involved.

“What will be most important is public opinion,” he said. “And so none of them want to lose the confidence of the public. And that’s why they’ve got to think about what it is they are prepared to do.”

In a statement emailed to Global News on Wednesday, Trans Mountain said a B.C. Supreme Court injunction currently in place “prevents the blocking of obstructing access to Trans Mountain’s work sites and work areas throughout B.C.”

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“However it does not prevent normal use of public roadways, private property or public rails,” the statement reads.

Public support for TMX declines

What’s more, a poll released by the Angus Reid Institute on Wednesday found that for the first time in two years, public support for the TMX pipeline expansion project fell below the majority.

Last week, Trans Mountain President and CEO, Ian Anderson, announced a new estimated cost for the expansion project at $12.6 billion, a considerable increase from the initial $7.4 billion estimated by the Federal government.

READ MORE: 61% of Canadians oppose Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades, 75% back action to help Indigenous people, poll says

The poll found that when first asked, 55 per cent of 1,508 respondents supported the TMX expansion, but, after they were informed of the estimated increase in costs and the increased burden for taxpayers, support dropped to 48 per cent with the opposition rising a corresponding seven points.

Jody Wilson-Raybould weighs in on the Wet’suwet’en conflict
Jody Wilson-Raybould weighs in on the Wet’suwet’en conflict

According to the poll, Canadians are now more or less equally divided when it comes to the TMX expansion — with 48 per cent in support of the project and 45 pert cent in opposition.

The poll’s findings represent a two-year low point in support for the project.  In February of 2018, support for the project stood at 49 per cent.

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–With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun, Simon Little and The Canadian Press