Last Tuesday, with the blockade of the Canadian rail system by indigenous protests having already been underway for 12 days, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a speech in Parliament about the need for patience and listening to other points of view. “We are creating a space for peaceful, honest dialog with willing partners,” Trudeau said. Later he added, “What is the alternative? Do we want to become a country of irreconcilable differences where people talk but refuse to listen? Where politicians are ordering police to arrest people.”
Trudeau’s smug tone and vague message did not go over well with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer who called it “a word salad” and “the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history.” For daring to disagree, Scheer was kept out of a meeting of party leaders to discuss the situation. “Mr. Scheer disqualified himself from constructive discussions with his unacceptable speech from earlier today,” Trudeau explained.
Three days later, after nearly 1,500 rail workers were laid off, Trudeau abruptly reversed course. At a Friday press conference he gave a speech with a very different tone. Speaking in French at first he said, “Let us be clear. All Canadians are paying the price. Some people can’t get to work; others have lost their jobs.” Then switching to English he said, “The situation as it currently stands is unacceptable and untenable. Everyone involved is worried. Canadians have been patient. Our government has been patient, but it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now.”
Again, this was only three days after his speech about patience and listening. Monday, police moved in to break up the most significant rail blockade:
Ten members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation were arrested on Monday when officers moved in to lift the blockade which had been erected in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia who are fighting a 416-mile pipeline through their traditional territory.
Ontario provincial police had warned the activists that they had until midnight Sunday to leave the area, or face arrest and charges…
Tyendinaga Mohawk activists heckled a phalanx of police officers, telling them they were standing on Indigenous land and had no authority.
ADD Officers warned that people standing near the rail line were in violation of the injunction and faced imminent arrest. Moments later, dozens of officers tackled a number of protestors, forcing them to the ground and cuffing their hands with zip-ties.
Here’s a clip showing how it actually went down:
The question should be why it took 1,450 people losing their jobs and inconvenience for tens of thousands of Canadians before Trudeau finally stepped up and called for the blockades to be removed. But that was far from the only loss that resulted from allowing these illegal protests to drag on for nearly three weeks:
The Canadian mining company Teck Resources on Sunday announced it was withdrawing from plans to build a large oil sands mine in Alberta, citing debates about global warming in Canada. The project would have created 7,000 construction jobs, according to the company.
The Premiere of Alberta, where Trudeau’s party lost all of its seats in the last election, tweeted his disappointment with the decision to give up on the $20 billion dollar project:
The withdrawal of Teck’s Frontier Mine application is more devastating news for the Canadian economy, especially for Albertans & indigenous people.
This decision is clearly the result of federal regulatory uncertainty & the current lawless opposition to resource development. pic.twitter.com/DXGKC6mCo9
— Jason Kenney (@jkenney) February 24, 2020
Joe Oliver a former minister of natural resources wrote a piece for the Financial Post today warning that Teck’s decision to abandon this project could be the “death knell” for future projects:
Trudeau’s latest catastrophic failure relates to Teck Resources’ decision to cancel its $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine in northeast Alberta, a project that received regulatory approval and support from all 14 First Nations and Métis communities the mine would have impacted, who are bitterly disappointed by the news. The company wrote off $1.13 billion in sunk costs for the same reason Enbridge and TransCanada wrote off comparably staggering amounts and Kinder Morgan would have done, too, had it not been bailed out by the Canadian taxpayers. The inability of the government to reconcile resource development and climate change put Teck in an untenable position. Well over $120 billion of projects have been cancelled in the past three years of Liberal hostility and incompetence. The latest may signal the death knell for further projects…
Then there are the ruinous implications of the blockades, which doubtless influenced the Teck decision. The prime minister looked like a deer in the headlights when protesters blocked train tracks, bridges and highways, seriously impeding trade and travel and creating a national crisis. When he finally came home to address the crisis, he could not clearly communicate what if anything he would do, beyond “dialogue.” While Trudeau fiddled, the country burned.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer hammered Trudeau Monday morning on that point saying, “There is now a clear playbook for radical activists to follow and they know that the prime minister will do literally nothing as the economy is brought to its knees.” A bit later Scheer made the connection to the SNC-Lavalin scandal: “Why is it that when it comes to his corporate, crony, insider friends the prime minister is willing to break the law but when it comes to providing hope and opportunity to thousands of Canadians the prime minister refuses to uphold the law?”
Here’s the exchange today between Scheer and Trudeau: