The end of oil? Only in Canada, eh.
As the global demand for fossil fuels rises consistently, year over year, Canadians are told yet again, we should leave ours in the ground. This week, environmental activists celebrated the death of the Teck Frontier mine. Environmentalist David Suzuki promptly tweeted “AWESOME news! Teck has withdrawn its application for the Frontier oilsands mine. BIG thanks to each and every one of you who spoke up to say #RejectTeck.”
Of course, many westerners have a different take on the subject. That includes First Nations who had signed on to the project and were hoping to profit from it. Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Metis, told APTN that the political treatment of the project had been “deplorable,” adding that “this is a black eye for Canada. This is a blow to Canada’s global investment competitiveness.”
Even arch-central Canadian Michael Ignatieff, former federal Liberal leader, saw fit to add his two cents to the conversation at an event at Cambridge University earlier this month.
“If you don’t believe that’s a process you have to go through, if you just think, oh, forget about Alberta and Saskatchewan, forget about the energy-producing provinces because the mortal threat is so great, we just read out a whole constituency of our country from consideration, you get away from democracy.”
Indeed. You hew closer to mob rule, or cancel culture, or whatever passes for consensus-building these days. It’s where the loudest voices — the radical environmentalists, anarchists and anti-capitalists successfully piling on to Indigenous protests — call the tune, and the prime minister dances as fast as he can. As for the silent majority, desperately trying to take the last functioning GO train home to pick up their kid from daycare, or hoping to get a job at one of the projects now on the scrap heap, they’re out of luck.
Watching this sad circus from the sidelines is the Canadian and foreign investment community, and their takeaway is clear: this is too much trouble to be worth it. This is, of course, exactly the “win” the protesters are looking for. Their goal is not reconciliation, but repudiation: a rejection of the project that is the Canadian state.
What better way to do so than to strike at the heart of what built the country in the first place, the extraction of natural resources? It’s not just an economic attack, but a philosophical one. It repudiates what Canada has traditionally stood for: a triumph over the hardships of an unforgiving landscape, where pioneers forged a life for themselves and future generations, where they went to escape poverty, war, famine or rigid class structures. Until recently, to have been a “settler” was a brave thing; today, the term is burdened with shame by those who equate it with dominance and an ongoing “colonization” designed to oppress Indigenous Peoples.
Of course, this wasn’t why settlers came here at all. Contrary to what protesters would have you believe, colonization wasn’t a centuries-long conspiracy to oppress Indigenous people, but a resource extraction and trading opportunity. If the landscape hadn’t been teeming with furs, fish, timber, minerals and, later, oil, the colonizers would never have stuck around. And though our economy has diversified, resources still lie at its core: resources that, ironically, stand to finally benefit the Indigenous societies.
And there are a substantial number of Indigenous communities that wish to profit from those resources. Twenty First Nations signed on to the Coastal GasLink project, a deal that would have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to communities that need them. Fourteen nations wanted to participate in the Teck Frontier mine, for the same reasons. In just two years, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, 399 Indigenous companies did business with oilsands operators in Alberta. Six per cent of the workforce in the oil and gas industry identify as Indigenous. According to the Montreal Economic Institute, their average wage is $150,000 a year.
The division fuelling protests today isn’t between “Indigenous” people and “settlers.” It is between two groups represented both inside and outside the Indigenous community. One rejects the development of an industrial economy, the exploitation of resources, and the profit motive, and uses the fight against climate change and the delegitimization of the Canadian state to literally “shut down Canada.” The other seeks to continue the wealth-building exercise of industrial development and resource extraction that has served Canada for hundreds of years, while ensuring that it is more equitably shared by all people living here, including Indigenous communities whose ancestors predate the Canadian nation.
Which Canada will prevail? That depends on our political leadership, notably our prime minister, and how they manage this conflict. If Ottawa does not stand up for the energy sector, champion new technologies like carbon capture, and defend the interests of thousands of workers, then new projects will die on the vine. But if it sends the message that Canada’s resource sector will not be wholly sacrificed on the twin altars of climate change and anti-colonialism, then maybe, just maybe, both democracy and prosperity stand a fighting chance.
Tasha Kheiriddin is the founder and CEO of Ellipsum Communications and a Global News contributor.