Every time the topic of the Trans Mountain tanker and pipeline expansion hits the headlines, we are subjected to various public pronouncements by politicians, oil companies, and media figures about how it’s in the “public” or “national” interest. I think it’s important to note that this “public” or “national” interest, cast in primarily economic terms, is not the interest of the actual broad public: benefits to regular Canadians from this industry have declined for a long time, while we give billions away in subsidies to already profitable corporations and their rich investors.
A few things to know:
- Over the last decade, 50,000 jobs have vanished in the industry with more losses on the way as automation pushes out more and more workers.
- Government revenue has cratered in the last decade, with both oil company taxes and royalties on oil production declining sharply.
- During this period, oil companies have produced more and more oil, with production up 83% from April of 2009 to April of 2019,
- While they made huge profits and paid out billions to their investors.
The “public interest” in this pipeline clearly isn’t about middle-class jobs or filling government coffers. It seems pretty clear that this is the interest of already rich oil investors looking to make much more money. At least some of their profits are our loss: Canada gives oil and gas companies billions of dollars in subsidies, adding more to the total on a seemingly regular basis.
The biggest investors in the Tar Sands include some of Canada’s richest families and the Big Five banks. The Trans Mountain pipeline is being pushed through to benefit their bottom line. This isn’t the first time the interest of Canada’s elite to make more money has been pushed as the interest of the rest of us, however, this is a key distinction to make.
And, of course, this “national interest” doesn’t cover the risk to our coast. There is a high risk of a catastrophic oil spill that for which we aren’t prepared. Even without a spill, regular operations would risk the extinction of the Southern Resident orca. And the project will release tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, further destabilizing our shared climate.
Even Canada’s captured energy regulator agrees that the risks are great. In their reassessment report, issued in February 2019, the National Energy Board stated that the project will have a “significant adverse environmental effects” on Southern Resident orca, that the impacts of a spill would be “environmentally significant,” and the Project-related greenhouse gas emissions “are likely to be significant.”
So the next time you hear the powers-that-be opining on Trans Mountain and the “national interest,” remember that interest is that of Calgary board rooms and Toronto law firms. It is not the interest of workers, the public at large, or the coastal communities we call home.