On Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 prime minister Stephen Harper caught a flight to China for a five day trip full of the most officious meetings between himself and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, cuddling with pandas (of which two will be rented to Canadian zoos for $1 million a piece, annually) and, of course, some ping pong. The cheery, photo opportunity-filled visit, which comes on the heels of Harper's disastrous meeting with aboriginal leaders and the tabling of the Keystone xl pipeline project, had the primary purpose of shoring up some of the details surrounding the increasingly expanding economic relationship between Canada and China. Harper and his financially obsessed (a term not to be confused with 'financially wise') caucus have aimed their policies, and soon possibly our pipelines, west towards the economic possibilities of China.
The economic uncertainties faced by major parts of the globe are certainly an issue of concern for Canada, making it no surprise that the Harper government is seeking new partners for trade and growth. But the question still stands regarding whether further connecting our energy supply to China in the interests of economic growth are enough to outweigh the immense ecological and human toll that any such economic expansion may bring.
In mid-January-- following the meetings of various leaders and bureaucrats, and numerous protests in both Canada and America-- the Calgary oilfield outfit TransCanada had their application for the route of the Keystone xl pipeline denied by the u.s. authorities. While a resubmission of a revamped application from TransCanada is supposedly in the works, the watchwords "diversification" and "Asia" have emerged and found an increase in popularity among many of Canada's economic commentators. The inane chatter of economic gossip coupled with China's growing financial role in Alberta's energy sector set Harper's visit to China up for being the crowning jewel of a 'successful' international meet-up and economic/political agreement. But hooking up Alberta's energy sector with the burgeoning, bulldozing industrial behemoth of China is a massive human and ecological risk, a concern which Harper seems to have ignored. The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project-- dubbed the 'Kitimat pipeline'-- would build twin pipelines running from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia, at which point resources could be loaded on tankers and shipped internationally.
As Harper prepared for his trip to China, aboriginal leaders from British Columbia asked China to pester our primmest of prime ministers about his human rights records-- and rightly so. While China gains international attention for its human rights abuses, Canada's systematic violence towards aboriginal minorities has often gone completely unnoticed or relegated to the past as the "founding crimes of democracy" and not a terrible crime still occuring. The sad reality, as the Attawapiskat controversy has brought to our attention, is that government mis-management of reserves, from under-financing and under-educating all the way down to how the 'Indians' must organize their lives, has utterly decimated aboriginal communities in one of the most sinister and under-reported examples of institutionalized racism in our present times. Deciding to toss a pipeline through aboriginal lands only adds insult to injury. It ought to be understood that aboriginal groups, on whose land much energy sector industry is built, are at the most risk if environmental damage occurs and are the least financially benefited from industrial development. The Kitimat pipeline would cross or border numerous aboriginal reserves and communities to then be loaded onto tankers in the ecologically sensitive, not to mention extremely dangerous to navigate, Kitimat sound.
As the American market continues to weaken, Canadian goods crossing the border have slowed down. Canada undoubtedly needs economic alternatives. As China's star continues to rise it seems quite reasonable that Canada ought to strengthen its economic interconnections to the industrial powerhouses of Asia. But not all the strengthening of these ties are as sensible as Harper and his government make them out to be. Canada's energy sector, while undeniably the back bone of our financial well-being, is not something that should so easily be bought and sold, especially when the livelihoods of people and entire ecosystems are so obviously at risk.