Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Honeymoon Is About to End
Imminent decisions on giant energy projects are sure to anger some parts of the electorate that swept him to power.
Along Canada’s evergreen-draped west coast, the fate of a multi-billion-dollar energy project and a nation’s reconciliation with its dark, colonial past hang in the balance.
Beating rawhide drums and singing hymns, occupiers of Lelu Island—where Malaysia’s state oil company plans a $28 billion liquefied natural gas project—assert indigenous claims to the area where trees bear the markings of their forefathers and waters run rich with crimson salmon they fear the project will obliterate.
“The blood of my ancestors is on my hands if I don’t defend this land,” says Donald Wesley, 59, a hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe which has inhabited the area for more than 6,000 years.
That claim is about to test Justin Trudeau, the country’s telegenic 44-year-old prime minister, who swept to power a year ago vowing to be many things to many people—to tackle climate change, revive the economy, and reset Canada’s fraught relationship with its indigenous communities. Those pledges are set for collision in British Columbia—home to more First Nations communities than any other province and the crucible where a resource economy seeks to reinvent itself.
Trudeau has promised to decide on the LNG project on Lelu Island by Oct. 2. He has big spending plans to spur growth in a commodities downturn, and B.C., the birthplace of Greenpeace, is where most energy projects able to support that growth are located. Indigenous groups, essential to public support, are divided, with some seeking to preserve their habitat and traditions, and others arguing that the projects offer a path out of poverty, addiction and suicide.
Facing five major energy initiatives in B.C., Trudeau will choose which constituency to abandon. He’s allowed a hydroelectric dam to proceed; pending are decisions on Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway crude pipeline, Petroliam Nasional Bhd.’s LNG project on Lelu Island, a pipeline expansion by Kinder Morgan Inc., as well as a ban on crude oil tankers. He’s said to want at least one pipeline, and favor Kinder Morgan.