National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald says he is “grieved” that the Canadian government has “found it so easy to quickly raise the money” for the Trans Mountain pipeline, which he maintains is in “deep conflict” with both the principle of Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent and the “promise of effective action on climate injustice.”
The federal government announced May 29 that it had purchased the pipeline and related infrastructure from Texas-based oil and gas company Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion, in order to ensure the completion of the expansion that has been stalled in the face of protests and resistance from the B.C. provincial government, some First Nations and environmental groups. Additional spending on construction is anticipated.
The purchase “is astonishing in light of the government’s slow movement towards providing anything near adequate financial help for the crisis in Indigenous communities, housing, clean water and education,” says MacDonald.
MacDonald, who commented in response to a question from the Anglican Journal, has been outspoken against expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and joined other Canadian faith leaders in April to protest the project.
Some Anglicans in the diocese of New Westminster have joined actions against the pipeline, saying that the project failed to obtain proper consent from Indigenous groups and citing environmental concern. An Anglican priest, the Rev. Laurel Dykstra of Salal + Cedar, and parishioner Lini Hutchings were arrested May 25 after chaining themselves to a tree outside the Trans Mountain terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
Amid legal challenges and opposition, Kinder Morgan had announced April 8 that it was halting “non-essential” spending on the project.
Under the new agreement, the federal government will purchase the project and continue its construction before selling it to a new owner (or owners). According to CTV, Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau described the agreement as a “sound investment opportunity” that “will make the most of the economic potential of this project. It’s an agreement that we believe will deliver a real return on investment for the benefit of British Columbians, Albertans and to all Canadians.”
Ken Gray, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kamloops, B.C., in the Territory of the People, disagrees. “This project moves us in the wrong direction,” says Gray, who is co-chair of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Creation Matters working group, a member of the Responsible Investment Task Force and secretary of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network.
The pipeline project does not align with the Anglican Church of Canada’s fifth Mark of Mission to “safeguard the integrity of creation,” Gray says. “A large increase in bitumen extraction and transmission will generate large amounts of carbon dioxide when burned, which will upset the delicate atmospheric balance necessary to sustain life on Earth.”
When asked what he thought of the government’s decision to purchase the pipeline, Gray wrote in an email that he sees the economic risk factors as “unacceptably large…Canada is making a huge gamble: it seems motivated by political expediency rather than sustainable market analysis and practice.”
Gray notes, however, that some in his congregation have worked in resource industries and are “upset I am even raising the issue.” Anglicans, he says, “are on all sides of the conversation.”
Indigenous groups are similarly divided over the issue. Some First Nations have expressed a desire to become partial owners of the line, while others say they have not consented to the project and do not want to allow it to pass through their territory.
In the southern portion of the Territory of the People, Gray says there is a “lively and important conversation” in the Lower Nicola Valley, “home to three reserves with a significant number of Anglican congregations.” While a mutual benefit agreement was signed with Kinder Morgan, the Lower Nicola Indian Band council is still deciding whether or not to give its final consent to the project.
Personally, Gray says, he stands with MacDonald in saying that claims around free, prior and informed consent have not been honoured.
“I agree with those who note that advancement of this project at this time does not assist us in our healing and reconciliation journey. Many B.C. Indigenous communities are not adequately represented in conversations, either with Trans Mountain or the federal government,” he says. He adds that there is an important distinction in the province between Indigenous communities that hold licence to tracts of land along the pipeline’s route and the unceded First Nations territory throughout the province.
Alberta premier Rachel Notley has been vocal in her support of the purchase, tweeting that “This deal and this pipeline will create good jobs, unlock investment in our energy sector and put us on the path to getting full value for our energy resources.” B.C. Premier John Horgan, however, continues to oppose the pipeline’s construction, voicing concerns about the potential for an oil spill.
Gray says he encourages Anglicans to “join in a concerted effort to build a new low-carbon economy,” based on solar, wind and geothermal energy. “We need a progressive, hopeful and strategic new direction for energy production and a healthy economy supporting workers, industry, residents, First Nations and the natural world.”