Justin Trudeau pipeline

Justin Trudeau pipeline approval signals an end to Sunny Ways

Indigenous communities and environmentalists are disappointed in the PM’s latest move away from campaign promises.

Justin Trudeau pipeline
Justin Trudeau pipeline approval signals an end to Sunny Ways

The “Sunny Ways” have hit a stormy patch these days as the Prime Minister’s government has become plagued by its own rain dancing. With the announcement this week by Justin Trudeau approving two of three major oil pipeline projects — on top of an approval in September of the Pacific Northwest LNG project in northern B.C. — the Trudeau government has chosen short-term oil profits over the environment and respect for Indigenous communities.

Only one pipeline project was turned down, the Northern Gateway project that would have run from north of Edmonton nearly 1,200 kilometres west to Kitimat and the Great Bear Rainforest on the B.C. coast. That project had previously been approved by the Harper government, but the Federal Court overturned the approval, agreeing that Ottawa had failed to properly consult affected First Nations communities. Even if Justin Trudeau had agreed this week to proceed with Northern Gateway pipeline project, the government would still face the significant consultation hurdle.

The courts and First Nations can still be expected to play a major role in determining whether the three energy projects greenlit by Justin Trudeau ever actually see the sunny light of day, especially the Trans Mountain project, which would triple current pipeline capacity from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., and increase oil tanker traffic off the B.C. coast seven-fold.

Greenpeace went so far as to accuse the PM of declaring war on British Columbia.

“Prime Minister Trudeau has broken his climate commitments, broken his commitments to Indigenous rights and has declared war on B.C. If Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to bring Standing Rock-like protests to Canada, he succeeded,” spokesperson Mike Hudema said in a statement.

“Despite the stated opposition to these pipelines from over 100 First Nations and tribes, the Prime Minister ignored their voices and approved two new pipelines that would bring ongoing threats to their lands, culture, water and economies. … Whether it is through lawsuits, protests or peaceful direct action, we will live up to the promises our governments have made, even if they won’t.

“These pipelines will never make it into the ground.”


A little over a year ago, newly minted cabinet appointees like Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould were all smiles as Trudeau’s bold choices indeed signalled sunny days after the 10 dark years under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

But it didn’t take long before clouds started to move in. Commitments that Canada made at the COP21 Paris climate accords were at odds with its domestic energy agenda, which continued to support expansion of the highly polluting Alberta oil sands development and, as we saw this week, the building of pipeline infrastructure that would ensure continued dependence on the fossil fuel industry.

The country moved one step forward in relations with First Nations communities through the announcement of a federal inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, but the Trudeau Liberals also reneged on a major promise to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This summer, Justice Minister Raybould,  a former B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional chief, called UNDRIP “unworkable” in Canada, angering chiefs across the country. Then came Trudeau’s approval of the Site C Dam project in B.C. even as First Nations communities were fighting it in court. Shortly after came the okay for the Pacific Northwest LNG project and, now, the Trans Mountain pipeline, setting the stage for many more years of protests and legal battles where Ottawa will be defending positions that violate both the letter and spirit of UNDRIP.

We have yet to see whether Trudeau will live up to another promise to Indigenous Peoples regarding the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” is a reference to Aesop’s Fables tale of a competition between the sun and the wind to get a man to remove his coat (spoiler: the sun wins). A philosophy espoused by Liberal Wilfrid Laurier in a speech prior to his 1896 election as PM, it’s a metaphor for diplomacy over force, compromise over coercion.

The only compromises we have seen, however, are the frequent concessions Trudeau has made on his own electoral promises. His government has backed away from commitments to engage in meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples on projects affecting their communities, to civil libertarians on the repeal of portions of Harper’s C-51 security legislation, to electoral reform advocates seeking an end to the first-past-the-post system, to federal scientists muzzled under Harper, to Canadians threatened with the loss of home mail delivery, even to marijuana users, who continue to be arrested for a crime that Trudeau has vowed to remove from the law books.

It seems that the PM’s sunny ways have only really been successful in getting one man to remove his garments: Trudeau himself. The coming storms may force him to start clothing himself in something of real substance as he faces the prospect of a cold electoral shower in 2019. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.

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