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Forty-two Order of Canada recipients are urging the federal government to cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and instead focus on the transition to a clean energy economy.
In an open letter to Canadians released on Thursday, the group, which includes prominent Canadians like Bonnie Sherr Klein, David Suzuki, Robert Bateman, Joy Kogawa and Gabor Maté, says the recent Federal Court of Appeal ruling quashing the government's approval of the pipeline is an opportunity to rethink the project, including the risks to Pacific Coast orca whales. Other recipients who have signed the letter include Dempsey Bob, George Bowering, Lorna Crozier, Alma Lee, Ann Mortifee, Jean Swanson, Dorothy Grant, Raffi Cavoukian, Libby Davies and several others.
“We must be prepared to act boldly for our grandchildren’s future if we are to save our planet. What is possibly worth more?” said Bonnie Sherr Klein, film-maker and Officer of the Order of Canada. Sherr Klein, who is the mother of author Naomi Klein and Seth Klein, the former B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the group came together through word of mouth — it was a matter of Google searches and phone calls to people they knew.
"The interesting thing is people were kind of waiting for an opportunity to do something," she said. "People love their country and desire to do something for their country."
Part of the impetus behind the letter came from B.C.'s second summer of devastating wildfires, which blanketed the province in smoke for weeks. Although she was convinced by the science that climate change was real, it was only an intellectual thought.
"We couldn't breath a couple of weeks ago in B.C. and in Vancouver," she said. "At that moment (climate change) became visceral. It was here and now, no longer remote. Scientists are telling us there is a window, but it is small... The idea that we can do something, if we do it now is really very exciting, ... so we really have to make a dramatic shift."
Pierre-Olivier Herbert, press secretary for the federal finance minister, responded to the group's letter in an email to National Observer.
"The Trans Mountain Expansion Project is an investment in Canada's future, and our Government continues to have every confidence in the project... We will ensure that the Project moves forward in the right way while meeting the high standards that Canadians expect when it comes to both protecting the environment and meeting our obligations to consult with Indigenous peoples," Herbert stated.
The Trans Mountain expansion, if built, would triple the capacity of an existing pipeline system, allowing it to ship up to 890,000 barrels of bitumen and other petroleum products from Alberta’s oilpatch to a Burnaby terminal in Metro Vancouver. In August, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's approval of the project, saying the government failed to consult adequately with First Nations and didn't consider the effects of tanker traffic on marine life in the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, the federal government closed a deal to buy the pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.
"We agree with the prime minister that a healthy economy and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive," the group letter states. "We propose that as a nation we invest in the transition to clean energy and a diversified economy as rapidly as possible. Working together, business, the labour movement, the non-profit sector, religious organizations, and government can generate long-term sustainable jobs in the field of clean energy. Re-training for those who suffer immediate job loss in this transition should become a public policy priority."
"We believe it is critical to add our voices to the many Canadians, young and old, who also desire a better country," the letter says. "While we respect those who differ, we call on our government to cancel the pipeline expansion. In its place we need to develop a comprehensive energy transition plan that is commensurate with the crisis of climate change."
42 Order of Canada recipients urge the federal government to cancel the #TransMountain pipeline expansion and instead focus on the transition to a clean energy economy. #cdnpoli #bcpoli #climatechange
The group feels it has a role to speak out as citizens calling for an energy transition plan that respects First Nations, honours the Paris Accord commitments and creates a sustainable future.
“We can mobilize and rise successfully to these challenges only by Canadians working together,” said Michael Clague, Order of Canada Member and community worker.
Tracy Sherlock writes about B.C. politics for National Observer. Send your tips and ideas to [email protected]. And never miss a story: use the promo code SHERLOCK today when you buy an annual subscription, and get a 20% discount.