The Federal Liberals Have Let Down Their Electorate with Support for LNG

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Prime Mister Justin Trudeau (John McCallum, Flickr Creative Commons)

Sustainability is not a spectrum

In a disappointing move that contradicts their earlier promises of championing environmental sustainability, the federal government has given their authoritative approval of the Pacific NorthWest Liquified Natural Gas project, a $36-billion natural gas liquefaction and export facility that would play a role in the processing and overseas exportation of gas produced by Progress Energy Canada Limited. In doing so, they have failed the portion of the electorate that voted for them in the hopes that the party’s promises would manifest in policy changes that support the protection of the environment, as well the rights of Aboriginal people.

According to PNW’s website, the project is expected to create between 600 and 700 permanent on-site and “spin off” jobs, as well as over 4,000 construction jobs. This construction is to take place around and on top of ecologically sensitive regions on Lelu Island, an island just south of Prince Rupert, and has thus earned the project condemnation from environmental advocates and First Nations groups from all across Canada.

The most vocal First Nations opponent is the Lax Kw’alaams Band who have title claim to the area and have been fighting the project for years. In 2014, they sent an open letter to Kenneth Howes, PNW’s project assessment manager, expressing their frustration with the process.

“We continue to have problems with PNW failing to direct relevant correspondence to our EA (environmental assessment) contacts as explicitly requested. We cannot understand why PNW continues to fail to follow our explicit communication protocol for their project […]. Intelligent conservation design addressing impacts would require an in-depth understanding of the Skeena system, which PNW does not have […]. It is abundantly clear the PNW project will offend Lax Kw’alaams’ aboriginal title and rights interests,” the letter reads.

In a CBC article posted on Oct. 7, Canada’s Federal Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, said, “I am confident—with the 190 legally binding and scientifically determined conditions—that we will address the most important environmental impacts to ensure this project proceeds in the most sustainable manner possible.”
The problem that this kind of doublespeak glosses over is that the entire concept of environmental sustainability is fundamentally binary. Nothing can be “more or less” sustainable than something else; it either is or it isn’t. Sustainability is like affordability in that it’s a condition, rather than a spectrum. Saying “I almost have enough money for x” is functionally equivalent to saying “I don’t have enough money for x.” You either have enough money, or you don’t. Period.

The long-term reliance on burning fossil fuels for energy is not sustainable—the LNG project is not sustainable, and in my opinion, trying to tell people that an incontrovertibly unsustainable project is trying to proceed “in the most sustainable manner possible” is intentionally misleading, and an insult to Canadians’ intelligence.
An excerpt from the Liberals’ 2015 platform manifesto, A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class, reads: “We will protect our communities from the challenges of climate change and grow our economy by making significant new investments in green infrastructure. We will fulfill our G20 commitment and phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium-term.”

In this context, the approval of the PNW project is a politically antithetical act that contravenes absolutely everything the Liberals committed to by making these statements, and their aversion to publicizing this decision (after delaying it for months) indicates that they were very well aware of the hypocrisy. Perhaps the phrase “sunny ways” wasn’t supposed to be a reference to a future of illuminating policy changes, but was rather a clever foreshadowing of the party’s inclination towards blinding distraction politics.

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