By Mike Hudema
Dear Premier Notley,
I support your government on a lot of things.
I was there the day it was sworn in, when thousands of people filled the legislative grounds. I was there when the first cabinet with full gender parity in Alberta’s history was sworn in. I cheered when — after years of an unfair tax system creating unequal burdens — the government raised corporate taxes. I cheered again when your government helped get the money out of politics.
I was there the day Alberta announced, after decades of inaction, its first major steps to address a growing climate crisis, and I watched on TV as an Alberta MLA cradled a baby on the floor of the legislature.
All of these things and promises of more to come — like raising the minimum wage, diversifying Alberta’s economy and supporting working people — have my full support, but I’m sorry Premier Notley, I just can’t get behind you on pipelines.
New pipelines aren’t good for the environment, they aren’t good for the climate, and I’m sorry, but they aren’t good for working people or good governance, either.
Your government committed to re-establishing the relationship with First Nation people and to fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP). Both of these moves are the right thing to do, but both are at odds with your push for new pipelines.
It’s disingenuous to continue to tell workers there is a long-term future in fossil fuels, because there isn’t. The oil industry must come to an end.
At the heart of UN DRIP is the principle of Free, Prior and Informed consent. Unfortunately for pipeline advocates, several First Nations along both proposed pipeline routes have not only, not given their consent, but have stated their official opposition.
The Squamish, the T’seil Waututh, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Iroquois caucus (Akwesáhsne, Kahnawà:ke, Kahnesatá:ke, Oneida of the Thames, Six Nations of the Grand River, Tyendinaga, and Wahta), and the Wolastoq Grand Council have all come out against new tar sands pipelines, and that’s just to name a few.
If Alberta is serious about UN DRIP it means respecting their “no.” That may be a hard pill to swallow, but if you don’t it will send a strong message to all First Nations about just how serious the Alberta government really is.
I’ve also seen the damage that pipelines can do to communities. My colleagues’ community suffered the effects of one of the largest spills in Alberta’s history where community members, men, women and children were forced to shelter in place because of the toxic emissions. Those are working people, too, and their community is still dealing with the effects of that spill to their traditional lands.
Pipelines also aren’t good for the climate, and that’s bad for working people as well. The global climate targets of stabilizing global temperature rise between 1.5 degrees and 2.0 degrees Celsius of warming aren’t just numbers, they mean peoples lives.
Stabilizing temperatures at 1.5C means millions of working people won’t be displaced from their homelands; it means less frequent and less severe superstorms, like droughts, hurricanes and forest fires; and it means less dramatic and severe effects on the lives and livelihoods of working people all over this planet.
Both goals of 1.5 and 2.0 demand decarbonization. They necessitate we leave carbon in the ground so that we can stop climate change before it spirals out of our control and takes all life on this planet with it. That’s a lot of working people.
In that context it’s disingenuous to continue to tell workers there is a long-term future in fossil fuels, because there isn’t. The oil industry must come to an end if we are to survive and, as the world moves away from fossil fuels, Alberta’s resources are going to be some of the first to get transitioned out of the mix. That’s a reality we need to come to terms with, and pretending the situation is different doesn’t help working people, either.
Right now people are hurting. I’ve seen the unemployment numbers, I’ve seen the rising suicide rates, and have seen the real and devastating effect this downturn is having on working people and their families across this province. But the answer to that suffering isn’t building a new pipeline.
A pipeline won’t put Albertans back to work. The world is awash in oil and a new pipeline won’t change that. It may feel good or be politically strategic but it won’t do much to help.
Alberta has the tremendous and immediate potential to create over 100,000 jobs in this province in renewables, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation alone.
Here’s what will.
Building green jobs. Alberta has the tremendous and immediate potential to create over 100,000 jobs in this province in renewables, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation alone.
The province could start putting Albertans back to work today through policies that incentivize and speed the transition Alberta must undergo. Welding jobs, engineering jobs, electricians, machinist jobs are all waiting to explode, they just need a little more government leadership to do it.
Already we see worker-led organizations like Iron and Earth, an organization comprised of oil sands workers, taking the lead and demanding training and programs that support renewable energy development and job creation.
This is the vision we need for the province. This is the vision that can truly help the working people of this province and it’s a vision the world could really get behind.
Premier Notley, I urge you to stop the pipeline pushing and start focusing on the solar pushing, the wind pushing, the geothermal pushing, the retrofit pushing and the mass transit pushing — that’s where we need you. We need you to help us build the energy system of the 21st century not in expanding the fossil fuel-based one that every climate scientist on the planet says we need to move rapidly away from.
With much love and respect,