LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In an unprecedented move, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this week that his government will buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline from a private company. The project to expand it had been stalled amid objections from regional governments and local groups. Last year, we went to Canada and spoke with communities who say the pipeline expansion threatens their way of life. Here's Charlene Aleck of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, where part of the pipeline is being built.
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CHARLENE ALECK: The pipeline expansion terminates right - I don't say in our backyard - I say in our kitchen. Because Tsleil-Waututh people, we have gotten about 100 percent of our diet from the water. So we sustained our life for thousands of years being here - and since time of contact of industry and pollution and that we haven't been able to harvest from the inlet.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: To understand why Trudeau, who has championed environmental causes, took this step, we are joined now by Vassy Kapelos. She is the host of the CBC television show "Power & Politics".
Welcome to the program.
VASSY KAPELOS: Thank you so much for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why does Trudeau want this pipeline expansion to be built?
KAPELOS: There are a couple of reasons. Obviously, with oil prices sliding in the past few years, the province of Alberta, which is where most of the oil in Canada resides, was really suffering. A lot of people had lost their jobs. The economy had entered into recession-like conditions. So this pipeline was supposed to be built so we could get the oil out to the coast of B.C. where it could then be shipped to China, allowing us to have another market to sell our oil to and get a better price for that oil. So that's why it was deemed in the national interest.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We travelled through Canada and spoke to many people who are worried that a pipeline expansion could potentially bring an increased chance of oil spills that are impossible to clean up in these pristine areas and other concerns. Are these concerns valid in your view? I mean, how are they being seen?
KAPELOS: I think the economic concerns coming from Alberta are valid, but I think the environmental concerns coming from B.C. are valid too. This pipeline expansion would triple the capacity, which would mean it would increase the tanker traffic on B.C.'s coastline by a lot, and that's just a fact. And so, therefore, the risk of spills goes up as well. And I think anyone who has lived anywhere near an ocean can understand the concerns and the worries around the possibility of increased oil spills around there for sure. And then there are also a number of Indigenous communities along the route that are, you know, worried that they weren't properly consulted.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Apart from the stakeholders, I mean, what has been the general reaction encountered? I mean, the Canadian government is paying a lot of money for this.
KAPELOS: A lot - like, a lot. They say right now it's about $4.5 billion, but that could escalate with construction costs. I think that there are a lot of people who want to see the pipeline get built. But in the middle of such a controversial time for pipelines, the idea of a government that really got elected on a promise to fight climate change and do a lot about it - the idea that they are then using taxpayer money to get this pipeline built isn't setting particularly well with I think a ton of people, although it seemed like there was no other option.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, we're seeing more and more problems with energy projects like this pipeline, as you mentioned. They're increasingly controversial. What does it signal that the government had to step in to save this?
KAPELOS: I think it shows the sort of power of that opposition right now. I think the worry that a lot of people in the business community in Canada had was that if you can't get this one pipeline built, what message does it send to investors in the United States or elsewhere who are looking for certainty in where they put their money, essentially? And if you can - you know, if the only way you can get a big infrastructure project built in Canada is to essentially nationalize it, that could be a problem.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Trudeau has presented himself as a champion of the environment. He's up for re-election soon. What is the political cost for this, if any?
KAPELOS: It's actually one of those decisions that if you were just making it based on the political calculation, he would never have decided the way he did. Because in B.C., where most of the opposition to the project resides, there is a constituency of people that voted for him because of his environmental stance. They feel like they've been abandoned by Trudeau, by this decision. And so, he risks losing those very crucial seats. The only place he could gain from this decision is Alberta, in the oil patch. And they hated his father, a very, very well-known prime minister, Pierre Trudeau Sr., and they can't stand him. And just because he gets a pipeline built is not going to convince them to vote for him.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why did he do it?
KAPELOS: Because he thinks it's the right thing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vassy Kapelos is the host of CBC TV's "Power & Politics". Thank you so much.
KAPELOS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.