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EDITORIAL: Government at an impasse with pipelines and protests

 Approximately 100 people march in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their opposition to the GasLink pipeline project, along Grandview Highway in Vancouver Saturday, February 15, 2020. The protestors occupied the railway crossing on Renfrew Street between Grandview and Hebb Street.
Approximately 100 people marched in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, along Grandview Highway in Vancouver Feb. 15, 2020. — Postmedia file photo

It’s reaching a point where something has to happen.

The problem for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government? None of the solutions are politically palatable.

The problem? Railway and other blockades by people protesting the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, and also protesting the RCMP’s enforcement of a court injunction that moved demonstrators who had been halting the project.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the construction of the pipeline, which they say will go through environmentally sensitive and culturally important sites.

One of the most damaging blockades is in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont.

That blockade alone has stopped almost all of the Canadian National Railway’s operations east of Winnipeg.

Complaints about shortages are starting to crop up as goods normally shipped by rail don’t arrive. CN started laying off staff on Sunday, with over 450 employees getting temporary layoffs, with another 550 layoff notices set to go out this week. Via Rail has stopped passenger service Canada-wide, except for two smaller routes unaffected by the blockades. At times, even rail shipments to and from the United States have been interrupted.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the construction of the pipeline, which they say will go through environmentally sensitive and culturally important sites.

There are already court injunctions ordering some of the blockades to come down. So far, those injunctions have been ignored, and police forces have not shown any interest in enforcing them.

The federal government has also not been interested in police action; federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller has said that Ottawa is not in favour of direct action, and that the government would like a negotiated solution.

But while there have been meetings about the blockades — and though Prime Minister Trudeau has cut short international travel in an attempt to deal with the crisis at home — not much headway appears to have been made.

Meanwhile, Trudeau’s political opponents — including Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopeful Peter MacKay — have been arguing for immediate action. MacKay has been particularly blunt, sending emails to potential supporters saying, “The answer here is simple: restore order and respect the rule of law. The blockades are illegal and need to be stopped.”

There have been similar messages of concern from premiers like Ontario’s Doug Ford, who labelled the continuing blockades “a serious issue of national significance” Sunday evening.

The problem is that Trudeau’s government has made reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians a key governmental plank. Even if the blockades tighten their grip, the federal government is unlikely to risk its already-tattered reputation to address the shutdowns forcefully.

And the problem is, everyone on both sides already knows that.

While the government may want to address the issue with negotiation, it’s tough to negotiate when, first, the courts have already ordered some of the blockades to come down, and second, everyone knows how weak your negotiating position is.

It could be a long and damaging shutdown.

Because none of the solutions are good ones.

Stay tuned.

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