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Catherine McKenna meets Environment Ministers today in Halifax

Environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is in Halifax today for a meeting with the region’s ministers of the environment, and her visit is steeped in fossil fuel and indigenous justice issues. While she attends meetings, media conferences, and a reception in Halifax’s trendy north end climbing gym/café/bar, people in Saint John attend the first day of the National Energy Board community sessions to voice their unwavering opposition to the Energy East pipeline. People in the Prince Albert and North Battleford areas are drawing their water from a far-away watershed as oil slicks coat the North Saskatchewan River. People in Nova Scotia watch the Shubenacadie River get turned into a dumping group for thousands of tons of salt to make way for the Alton Gas project despite mass Mi’kmaq and non-indigenous opposition.

TransCanada communications staff has been saying that pipeline spills are “rare” ever since the Husky pipeline burst and sullied North Saskatchewan waters, no doubt in an effort to makeEnergy East, which would have thousands of water crossings, sound acceptable. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says otherwise – 2014 had 104 pipeline spills and 2015 had 69. That’s somewhere between one and two spills a week, and far from rare. This morning at the NEB hearing I heard a TransCanada employee say: “our objective is to have no spills,” which is at best wishful thinking and at worst delusional. But I digress.

The context in which Minister McKenna’s presence in Halifax takes place matters. The Liberal government continues to brand themselves as climate leaders. It matters that our own MP, Andy Fillmore, who is hosting this meeting, is the chair of the committee on Indigenous Affairs at a time when the government has named reconciliation a political priority. It matters that NS Environment Minister Margaret Miller continues to allow the Alton Gas project to continue while Sipekne’katik First Nation organizes on the ground and in court to stop the destruction of the Shubenacadie River. These three politicians are hyperaware of the realities of climate change, the urgent need to stop burning fossil fuels, the devastating impacts of oil spills on environments and people, and the fact that dirty energy infrastructure has be forced into Indigenous communities for hundreds of years at great cost to these communities.

With these pressing issues, we can expect that the Liberal Party will rely on their historical tendency to find a middle-of-the-road compromise. It is difficult, however, to find a compromise for a tar sands pipeline. There is no way to compromise around the reality of climate change and the cold fact that leaving the vast majority of fossil fuels unburned and untouched is an existential necessity. We can’t dialogue until we find an acceptable location and frequency for pipeline bursts. We can’t find middle-of-the-road solutions for communities trying to protect their land and water from bitumen spills.

Minster McKenna, Andy Fillmore, and the whole Liberal government have two options at this point: build Energy East, or don’t.  Build it, and threaten our climate, our water, and Canada’s already tenuous relationship with Indigenous people. Or don’t, and don’t.