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The pro-pipeline signs unloaded in bulk from a car in front of Parliament Hill were too many for those in the small crowd who wanted to hold one, and unused ones kept getting blown over in the wind.
Still, the blustery weather didn’t deter Bernard Hancock, a former roughneck in Alberta's oil patch, from stepping up to the mic at a tiny rally on Wednesday, May 23, in support of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The gathering coincided with a Canadian Chamber of Commerce "day of support" for the pipeline, consisting of a delegation of business, Indigenous and labour leaders who said they would meet with parliamentarians.
“This is probably the first time in my life that I’m no longer proud to be a Canadian,” Hancock told a gathering of about a dozen people, in addition to MPs, political staffers, organizers and media.
At a separate venue, Perrin Beatty, the Chamber’s president and CEO, was critical of the British Columbia NDP government's moves to block the pipeline, given that the project has received federal government approval.
"They're entitled to their views, they're not entitled to ignore the rule of law," said Beatty. “All of us recognize the tremendous benefits this project will bring to Canada."
‘We already lost Energy East, let's not lose Trans Mountain’
David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation and vice-president of the Metis National Council, said Indigenous people are “being used” by anti-pipeline protesters, even though Kinder Morgan has “done due diligence” on Trans Mountain.
"Let me remind those protesters...we were the dominant fur trade people,” Chartrand said, but he argued environmentalists and animal rights activists stopped that economic activity. His message to the protesters against the Trans Mountain pipeline now is: “go home.”
"We already lost Energy East, let's not lose Trans Mountain expansion project,” added Don Arseneault, government relations manager for Canada’s Building Trades Unions.
Earlier that day on the Hill, Hancock's hair was being tossed by the wind as he spoke about his frustration with political delays over the pipeline.
“Every day, I get out of bed, and the first thing I do, I look on my phone to Twitter or Facebook, and already I’m angry. There seems to be a common —”
Just then, someone yelled something that made Hancock sigh loudly. “I’m sorry, it’s just been such a long time, and I’m coming to say the same, dumb talking points,” he said.
“Why are you even listening to me? I’m objectively a loser. I’m 34 years old. I don’t have a girlfriend. I don’t have a car. Look at my hair! And yet you guys are listening to me talk about pipelines. That’s how sad civil discourse has become in this country.”
The rally was organized by Canada Action Coalition, a Calgary organization registered as a non-profit and Rally4Resources, which describes itself as a “grassroots” campaign.
In 2015, DeSmog Canada, now called The Narwhal, alleged connections between Canada Action, the oil industry and the Conservative Party of Canada.
James Robson, who described himself as the only full-time staffer for Canada Action Coalition as well as its spokesman, called the group “pro-energy, pro-resource, pro-Canada" in an interview.
“It’s about time that Canada actually got a pipeline to tidewater, so we can export at least a small amount of our hydrocarbons,” he said.
Asked what he thought of the concerns raised by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation that the federal government may have concealed evidence in its approval of the west coast pipeline, as well as concerns over the risks of environmental damage from a pipeline spill, Robson said people are “entirely entitled to their opinion.”
The Tsleil-Waututh’s territory includes the Burrard Inlet, off the coast of Metro Vancouver, which would see a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic and would be the site of a major oil terminal in Burnaby. As well, scientific reports have raised concerns over a lack of research over the effect of a spill.
'We know the NDP elsewhere can have different perspectives'
Conservative MPs Shannon Stubbs, the natural resources critic, and John Barlow also spoke at the rally.
“I know that most of you have never rallied or protested or demonstrated for anything in your lives,” said Stubbs. “But you are on the front lines of what is the most critical fight for Canada’s economy, for our country’s ability to create jobs, to reduce poverty, to employ the middle class."
She said "every corner of our country" benefits from Canada’s "responsible resource development" and that the oil and gas industry was a "world leader" in environmentally and socially responsible resource extraction.
Earlier this month, Stubbs took a shot at the Trudeau government over its promised legislation to “reassert” Ottawa’s control over the pipeline project. On Wednesday before caucus, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said such a bill was still being considered, as are "all options."
Last week, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the federal government is prepared to protect Trans Mountain with public money against financial loss, a move he called “indemnifying” the project.
In Question Period on Tuesday, NDP MP Rachel Blaney said that plan amounted to "billions for Kinder Morgan shareholders." She asked how it was possible that this money was available, but not billions of dollars to end boil water advisories across the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied that his government was "fully on track" to end the boil water advisories, and then asked a query of his own:
"My question for the member opposite is: Why does she not listen to Indigenous voices? Why does she not listen to the Indigenous communities that have expressed their support for the Trans Mountain expansion? Why do they not listen to Indigenous communities that dare to have differences of opinion from what the NDP here actually thinks, because we know the NDP elsewhere can have different perspectives?"