The current debate across the country on the future of energy development mirrors the three-decades-old polarizing argument made for and against free trade with the U.S., the prime minister says.
The comparison was made in a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to mining industry executives in Toronto on Monday, who said that the parallels are worth recognizing as the national consensus on the value of free trade led to the landmark NAFTA trade deal that exists today.
“That’s exactly the same situation we’re in right now, where the debate over climate change, the debate over economy versus environment is just as polarized, just as divisive,” Trudeau said of the heightened tensions that emerged during the 1988 free trade election.
Topics such as Canadian national identity and the future of the country were heavily debated prior to the consensus on NAFTA, much like the topics Canadians are arguing about today, Trudeau said.
“But as we saw from the free trade debate, that can flip fairly quickly. It won’t be easy but we all know, you all know, that’s where we need to go.”
Trudeau made the remarks at a mining convention targeted by protesters who previously blocked traffic and entry to the event over the weekend, arguing that the mining industry has damaging impacts on both the environment and Indigenous lands.
The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada hosted the meeting of global mining firms and Trudeau wasn’t the only federal official present.
Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan; Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Mary Ng; and Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages Mélanie Joly also be appeared with the prime minister.
Their attendance comes on the heels of nearly one month of intermittent rail, road and border crossing blockades across Canada, launched by Wet’suwet’en solidarity demonstrators in response to RCMP raids on the nation’s land.
That land would be traversed by the Coastal GasLink LNG (liquefied natural gas) pipeline, which the nation’s hereditary chiefs oppose.
Several of those have since been broken up and talks took place over the weekend between hereditary chiefs and government ministers on charting a new path forward. Work on that pipeline is now expected to resume shortly after a proposed agreement was reached between the parties.
Trudeau did not make any comments on the pipeline or the proposed agreement during his speech, choosing instead to market what he said is Canada’s viability in moving towards a “low carbon economy.”
“The mining industry can not only drive the clean transition but profit from it,” said Trudeau.
“Natural resources will always be a big part of our economy … we just need to transform our approach to meet a challenging future.”