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Yves Engler and Linda Solomon Wood discuss native resistance to tar sands pipeline and media mogul Pierre Karl Peladeau running as candidate for the Parti Quebecois

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to something new on The Real News. It’s going to be a regular panel on Canada. We’re going to invite different journalists and commentators to come on and give us a sense of what’s important, what’s new in Canada, and we’re going to discuss and debate the issues.

So, first of all, joining us from, today, in Toronto, is Yves Engler. Yves is a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy. He previously published The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority.

Now joining us from Vancouver is Linda Solomon Wood. She’s publisher and editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Observer, a national daily, independent, award-winning news site.

Thanks very much for both of you.


JAY: So, Linda, kick us off. What story have you been working on?

LINDA SOLOMON WOOD, PUBLISHER, THE VANCOUVER OBSERVER: Well, one of the biggest stories this week has been about the wall of resistance in British Columbia to pipelines from the tar sands coming to fruition in a way that was kind of stunning when [inaud.] An announcement has been made that pipelines are going to be going east now instead. There’s a $12 billion project proposed, Energy East, by TransCanada, and it would carry oil to refineries in the east. So it’s being viewed as a victory by environmentalists in British Columbia.

JAY: Now, do you have—what evidence or what indicates that they would have gone west if they could have?

SOLOMON WOOD: Well, they’re still trying to go west. They do have two big pipeline proposals west. One is the Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would go through the Rockies out through the Great Bear Rainforest to western coast of British Columbia. That is being fiercely disputed and fought by First Nations, environmental groups, and just, you know, regular citizens who are really worried that increasing pipelines in British Columbia is going to increase oil tanker traffic along the coast and put British Columbia in grave peril of an oil spill.

JAY: And that’s primarily what’s driving it is the fear of oil spill. I know the fight that’s been going on about the pipeline going through the United States is focused a little more on the carbon emissions of tar sands and the kind of oil it is. How much is that driving it? Or it’s more the local problem of oil spills?

SOLOMON WOOD: There’s been a lot of polling done on this issue, and what they find is that most people really don’t care about pipes. The issue isn’t about a pipeline. The issue is about what those pipes are going to bring and about the oil tanker traffic. People are very passionate about the natural beauty and the environment in British Columbia and really don’t want to see it destroyed.

JAY: And the native groups and native tribes and native leaders have been playing a leading role in this?

SOLOMON WOOD: Absolutely. They have been waging court battles against it, and they have been out in the streets. And Art Sterritt, who is a very prominent coastal First Nations leader, is saying that people are coming to him and just asking, you know, what do I do? Where do I go to stand in front of the, you know, trucks that are going to be here, the workers? How do I stop this thing from happening? This is really a deep issue for First Nations in British Columbia. This threatens their livelihood. This threatens their way of life.

JAY: And, Yves, the pipelines that are planned now or they’re talking about are going to go east, I think to Saint John, and maybe some refineries along the way. I mean, do you think there’s going to be similar opposition on the east coast? Or is this something specific about British Columbia?

ENGLER: Well, we just saw a couple of days ago that the National Energy Board okayed the reversal of the Line 9 Pipeline, which was previously going and taking oil from east to west, and reversing it to west-east, which is going to lead to bringing tar sands oil bitumen to Montreal refineries.

There’s been opposition to that, to the pipeline. The National Energy Board didn’t take serious consideration to that opposition, which is not a particularly big surprise, since we know the orientation of the Harper government.

So there is resistance. There’s lots of opposition. You know, here in Toronto there’s activist groups that have already come out and said they’re going to engage in civil disobedience to block the effort. It’s a little more difficult than the Northern Gateway because it is a pipeline that already exists—it’s just a question of reversing.

The Energy East Pipeline is a even bigger project. The Line 9’s about—I think 300,000 barrels of oil a day is what they want to have it at at its peak, which is a bit of an increase from the current flow. The Energy East is, of course, a much bigger project.

There is resistance. There’s, you know, growing understanding of climate disturbances. There’s obviously concern. The Line 9 goes right through Toronto. It—you know, where large bodies of—you know, large numbers of people live. So there’s concern from a sort of direct—if there’s a leak, you know, what impact, even in the case of the TTC, the Toronto subway, the impact that in some—some stations are basically right next to the pipeline. So there’s that concern. I think there’s also the bigger concern about, you know, climate emissions and the toll this has on, you know, the humanities going forward.

But it’s contested. But where this is—goes—the political establishment is almost entirely supportive. You have in Quebec, which is a Parti Québécois government, which is supposed to be somewhat environmentally minded, a more sort of social democratic government, they were quite supportive of Line 9. They’ve even been supportive of Energy East. So the official political world is very much in support of tar sands development.

JAY: Linda, one of the reasons that the aboriginal peoples in British Columbia seem to have some real leverage here is—and I guess part of the question is so much of the land claims are unsettled in British Columbia that pipeline companies, I guess, don’t know who’s really going to wind up having the rights to say who can have a pipeline and who can’t. And is that also what’s scaring them off?

SOLOMON WOOD: Yes. And the treaty, First Nations treaty rights in Canada are much stronger than in the United States. And as a result of that, well, unfortunately for the Harper government, they really didn’t handle consultation with First Nations very well. In fact, rather than consultation, it’s been almost as if they’ve gone on the attack against First Nations, as well as, really, anybody who’s been dissenting against, you know, really, against the pipeline projects. They have marginalized people for just disagreeing with the idea and, you know, gone on the attack against charitable groups such as David Suzuki Foundation for opposing them. So they’ve just—the Harper government has just appointed Jim Prentice, who has had strong ties with First Nation groups, to try to retrieve, recover the process some.

JAY: Right. Okay. Let’s switch to another story. Yves, you just mentioned the Parti Québécois in Quebec and now the provincial government. It’s supposed to be sort of a social democratic left-of-center government. But one of the richest, most powerful corporate owners, leaders in Quebec is going to run for them. So what’s that story?

ENGLER: Yeah. There’s—the election was just announced for early April, and there’s been a minority government in Quebec. So the Parti Québécois, which has had a minority government, announced an election, and a couple of days into the campaign announced what’s considered a star candidate, which is Pierre Karl Péladeau, who is one of the richest Quebeckers. He’s the owner of the biggest media conglomerate in the province.

This is a big story because by running for the PQ, he has publicly come out as a sovereigntist, so in support of Quebec nationhood, or of Quebec as its own country, which is obviously—has a—you know, there’s a big conversation about that in English Canada. He’s also the owner of some of the most right-wing—the Sun Media network in English Canada, which has been dubbed Fox in the—their cable channel, been dubbed Fox News north, as well as a whole chain of newspapers. So there’s a whole question about the sovereigntist question from the standpoint of the Parti Québécois, which has traditionally been close to unions. Pierre Karl Péladeau, he’s been considered to be a serious anti-union person who has locked out people, employees at two of his newspapers, for two years in one instance. He’s considered to be—fourteen different lockouts, I think, over the past ten years or something like that that his companies have pursued. So it’s a very controversial move with those that are more social democratic minded. It’s considered a big boost to the sovereigntist movement, because he is one of the richest people in the province, and to come out in favor of sovereignty traditionally is—the business class has not been particularly sympathetic to the sovereigntist movement. So it’s having lots of—it’s an example of just the sort of rightward shift, as I was kind of alluding to, of the Parti Québécois government. This is the government—Pauline Marois, who before the election, she was actually even on the street with some of the student demonstrators two years ago in a big student strike that took place in Quebec. She was, you know, banging pots and pans in support of the movement.

So it’s a step in a, you know, interesting direction, in a rightward direction. It’s—you know, also it’s tied into or it’s, you know, [incompr.] with this whole rise of this values charter, which is seen as a very xenophobic move by the Parti Québécois government and really sort of attacking its Muslims in Quebec and sort of playing off fear of immigrants that’s somewhat tied into the sovereigntist movement.

JAY: Yves, the Parti Québécois clearly still has sovereignty as their official position, but is there any real expectation that they’re going to try another referendum? I mean, for the American audience, there’s been several referendums on the sovereigntist position, although sometimes quite narrowly, but has lost each of them. And I know the student movement itself was—sort of the heat had gone out of the sovereignty side. They were far more interested in fighting on this social and economic justice issue.

I mean, when he’s—that he runs for the PQ, maybe on paper it’s supporting sovereignty, but is that an active issue for him and them?

ENGLER: Oh, well, for sure. He—yeah, it’s—you know, he came out very clearly when candidacy was announced that he supports Quebec as a country. And that’s—you can’t run for the PQ and not be a sovereigntist.

But there’s still about 40 percent of the population in Quebec that polls show are supportive of independence.

JAY: I understand he takes that as a position. But, you know, if PQ wins again, do you think there’s going to be another referendum?

ENGLER: There’s a roadmap towards a referendum question, possibly around more powers to Quebec with regards to culture and education and the like, not a straight do you want to secede from Canada question. And the idea is is that if the majority would vote for giving greater powers to Quebec, then the PQ government with a majority would go back to the federal government, ask for those powers. The federal government would likely say no or possibly say no. And then the PQ government would go back to the population and say, okay, we asked for, you know, more rights over language and education and the like; the federal government wouldn’t give us this; now we need to have a referendum on, you know, independence or—depending on exactly how the question would be worded. So yes. I think it’s—there is substantive amount of population in Quebec that’s supportive of the sovereigntist movement. The Harper government is very much disliked in Quebec. So its ability to sort of push back against a PQ government pushing for sovereignty would be very minimal and would probably actually just contribute to support for the sovereigntist movement. But, yeah, it’s—you know, in 1995 the vote was less than a percent difference that, you know, the no won. So—.

JAY: But that was a PQ that had very left-looking pretentions. With a Péladeau, it doesn’t quite look so left.

ENGLER: No, for sure, it doesn’t look so left. But, you know, interestingly enough, there’s also two candidates from the more rightward element of the student movement. There’s two PQ candidates for the election that are from the former student leaders, not the more radical Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who was really the main spokesperson for the student movement, but two others are part of the PQ. It’s a complicated party. But there’s increasingly—Péladeau’s joining the PQ is a sign of, you know, more and more of the business class not seeing sovereignty as a threat. You know, basically it comes down to we’ll continue with, you know, capitalism as-is, but we have a bit more, you know, national rights, a bit more linguistic rights, which I think a significant proportion of the Quebec business class would be more or less sympathetic towards. So I think it’s certainly—I wouldn’t exclude it from being a possibility of a referendum that was [crosstalk]

JAY: Okay. Well, we’ll do more on this as we get closer to an election. So thank you both very much for joining us.

SOLOMON WOOD: Thank you for having us.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Linda Solomon Wood is publisher and editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Observer , a national, daily, independent, award-winning news site with a readership across Canada and the United States.

Yves Engler is a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian - Stephen Harper's Foreign Policy, and previously he published The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Canada in Haiti: Waging War on The Poor Majority