Letter: Trudeau’s decision is a big step backward for Canada’s environment

It’s sad enough that our lives are being diminished by pollution, but things just got worse: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — caught at an Ottawa airport in a security breach — has just made the decision to expand the bitumen pipeline that runs through the City of Toronto.

As Transport Minister Marc Garneau revealed in his news conference on Wednesday, the government has decided that “in the interest of national energy security,” federal scientists will now “also evaluate the potentially catastrophic impact of an oil spill from pipelines and tankers on coastal waters.” The goal? That all spills be evaluated for the “direct, indirect and cumulative impact” that they would have.

At the same time, the Trudeau government has decided to proceed with Kinder Morgan’s already planned pipeline expansion. Next week, the federal government will announce that the Kinder Morgan pipeline, with expanded capacity for 890,000 barrels of bitumen per day, will go forward despite not meeting the Trudeau government’s conditions, including a tougher and more durable NEB (National Energy Board) process for Indigenous consultation.

It’s just like that time, not too long ago, when Canada’s government wanted to establish “resilience” zones around our lakes and rivers.

For those of us who are long-suffering environmentalists and climate change deniers, the news is not very reassuring, especially considering the government’s record on the environment. I don’t need to tell you that Trudeau has smashed all Canada’s targets for reducing greenhouse gases, failed to send a single Liberal cabinet minister to Mexico to help the world battle climate change, and rolled back key environmental legislation.

Just last year, the Trudeau government bowed to pressure from oil and gas companies, the industry that was already crying wolf, and caved to industry pressure and cancelled the federally required National Energy Board review of the contentious Northern Gateway oil pipeline. The decision wasn’t just bad on the environment but also bad for the economy.

The timing of this latest decision could not be worse. Investors are asking why Canada should be investing in itself. The government doesn’t understand the implications. The Prime Minister, already struggling to do an effective job abroad, needs to reset his entire approach to the energy industry.

The company that said the decision was made in the interests of national energy security, Kinder Morgan, whose shares fell by 5 per cent, clearly understands the implications. The government does not.

Trudeau, who won an unprecedented majority government less than a year ago, has to swallow hard and admit that Canada can’t have it both ways. That means a national conversation about how the energy industry best serves the country — the way that it has always done — and taking decisive action to act on the top-of-mind environmental concerns of Canadians.

In the meantime, the Trudeau government, which for years has ignored the need to phase out fossil fuels, needs to stop posing as a climate champion. The federal NDP is doing just that. Its climate change plan makes bold targets: cut emissions by 85 per cent from 2005 levels by 2050 and decrease the share of carbon emissions from the economy to 30 per cent by 2050.

Trudeau, who campaigned on a promise to do “better than Stephen Harper,” has made the most significant environmental decisions under his watch and made their implementation a priority. But, when it comes to the environment, Trudeau shows little evidence of doing so. He has to realize that being a “climate leader” means delivering. Now.

For a prime minister who wants to be remembered in the minds of future generations as a champion for the environment, he is not yet there. It’s time to change.

Dr. Larry Beasley is the director of the Duke Global Health Institute and an adjunct professor of public health at Duke University School of Medicine.

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