By BARRY WEISLEDER and GARY PORTER
Q: When should workers oppose nationalization of an industry?
A: When it is a bail-out of a nature-destroying, Indigenous rights violating, ruthlessly greedy corporation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision on May 29 to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline is that, and much worse. While the Liberal federal government can’t come up with the cash to ensure clean drinking water in Indigenous communities, or to provide free, quality public child care, free post-secondary education, pharma care, and dental care for all, it had no trouble finding $4.6 billion to purchase the existing pipeline and related properties of Texas-based Kinder Morgan. (KM paid a mere $550 million for the works in 2007.)
Completion of the pipeline expansion, to triple its capacity to move the dirtiest oil on Earth from Alberta to the British Columbia sea coast, will cost about $7.4 billion, and rising—plus the price of any further delay.
The bill is certain to climb well above $13 billion—without even taking into account what it will cost to clean up any spilled diluted bitumen, which is heavier and stickier than standard crude. Bitumen will not float on the ocean’s surface; it leeches out over decades, poisoning marine life of all kinds. Think of, instead, what could be done with $7.4 billion to create sustainable green energy alternatives to carbon-emitting power sources. Trudeau’s decision exposes the sham of his environmental and “Indigenous reconciliation” policies. It may cost him the 2019 federal election.
But far worse is what it will cost the working class and humanity as a whole. Workers will pay for the austerity measures necessitated by Trudeau’s bail-out of Kinder Morgan and his build-up of a nature-wrecking Crown Corporation. And everyone will suffer from the catastrophic effects of extreme weather and further climate change.
There will be a huge loss of food, loss of ocean and land habitat for countless species, more mass migration of climate refugees, and escalating wars fought over increasingly scarce vital resources around the world.
Remember, in this context: 1) Pipeline construction jobs are fleeting. 2) There are no jobs under 10 meters of seawater.
Instead of nationalizing Kinder Morgan, which is reminiscent of Ottawa’s prodigal bail-out of General Motors and Chrysler a decade ago, what should the government do? Expropriate the oil and gas giants, starting with Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil, Husky Energy, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., and Syncrude Canada. There can be no question of compensation for these pirates.
The clean-up of the massive waste pools at Fort McMurray will cost more than all the royalties ever earned by Alberta on the Tar Sands. In July 2016 the regulator estimated that the toxic ponds cover more than 220 square kilometres and contain more than 1.2 trillion litres of contaminated water. Toxic materials include bitumen, naphthenic acids, cyanide, and heavy metals. They pose a threat to wildlife and release air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Research suggests these substances are leaching into groundwater.
If the expropriated assets do not cover the massive clean-up, sue the corporate directors for the difference. If there is anything left after the clean up, invest it in green energy generation (solar, wind, tidal waters, geo-thermal). Rapidly phase out the Alberta Tar Sands development while implementing a re-training transition plan that leaves no energy worker behind.
Clearly, the working class can count on no capitalist government to carry out such measures. Nor can we count on the courts, like the BC NDP government does, to pursue such a course. The harsh treatment of protesters by the prosecutor and the judge in Burnaby, B.C., proves this once again.
The best prescription by far is mass political action in the streets and work places. That is the way major advances have been achieved by labour, women, LGBTQI folks, oppressed nations, students, and the environmental movements for 100s of years.
By organizing democratic, united-front campaigns, and taking to the streets, workers and our allies can stop the expansion of the Trans Mountain line. Most of all, we can preserve the hope of a habitable and more just world.