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A Chat with Green Party MP Elizabeth May: Canadians Do Not Want Keystone XL

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird has had his initial meeting with newly anointed Secretary of State John Kerry and delivered his country’s official message: Canada wants the Keystone XL pipeline to be built. Canadian Green Party Leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Elizabeth May, however, brought a different perspective with her on a trip to D.C. that coincided with Baird’s. Heartened by President Barack Obama’s firm language on climate change and on creating renewable energy sources, May met with U.S. political leaders and delivered a different message: Many Canadians do not want the $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline to go through, inasmuch as it means more development in the Alberta oil sands.

In an interview with ICTMN, May, whose district is the Sannich Gulf–Islands of British Columbia, briefed ICTMN on her February 6 and 7 meetings with congressional and senate leaders and outlined the reasoning of Canadians who oppose Keystone XL.

What did you accomplish in Washington?

I had a series of meetings with congressional leaders on climate, leaders in the House and the Senate, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and the Senator from New Mexico. I asked them what they thought of President Barack Obama's inauguration address, how much they are expecting from him in the future, and how they see the Keystone XL pipeline within the mix of issues.

Why did you come to Washington?

I wanted to make sure they knew that within Canada there is a large proportion of the Canadian population that is not in favor of rapidly expanding the oil sands and isn't in favor of pipelines that ship crude and diluent to refineries in other countries.

Barack Obama’s inauguration address represented leadership. Canada has taken the position in global negotiations of saboteur. We have been blocking progress, and unfortunately we haven't seen any leadership coming from the White House for a very long time. That speech gave a lot of us hope that Barack Obama was going to put in place—as much as is possible from the executive branch—limitations on greenhouse gases, and show some movement on coal-fired power plants. Also there is a very key decision he has to make soon, which is to say no to the Keystone pipeline.

Who is specifically against the pipeline in Canada?

The major trade unions in Canada oppose the Keystone XL pipeline; the Communications Energy and Paper Workers Union, which represents the oil industry workers in northern Alberta, oppose the Keystone pipeline; the First Nations people of Canada, meaning the aboriginal people of Canada, they oppose the Keystone pipeline. The groups that work on climate and science oppose the Keystone pipeline. The major political parties in opposition to the House of Commons in Canada oppose the Keystone pipeline.

In the vast poll results on this, even with questions that skew results in favor of the pipeline, [you] can’t get more than a 50-50 split in public opinion in Canada. Most polls show the majority of Canadians opposing the pipeline.

Can you tell us about your experience with First Nations and aboriginals and the proposed pipeline?

As a leader of the Green party I realize that when we are talking about first nations [and Canada] we are talking about a nation-to-nation relationship. First Nations peoples and First Nations organizations have a constitutionally enshrined right to meaningful consultation before anything is done on their territory. There has not been anything like the level of consultation that is legally required. Proceeding with the pipeline in the absence of any sort of this consultation is illegal.

There is no reason for First Nations people to expect the pipelines to cross their territory. They have not been adequately consulted. On the basis of that, it’s a nonstarter.

What are some of the key factors you are fighting against from the conservative parties in the U.S. and Canada?

In Canada the biggest problem is with the development of a national energy strategy. The premier in Alberta, Alison Redford, has said she wants a national energy strategy, [but] it has been the Prime Minister who shot down the idea and said, No, we don't need one.

We do not have a basic grip on energy security in Canada. We don't have a national petroleum reserve. Most of the population is still dependent on foreign oil.

Are we blindly in favor of oil sands development at all costs, in the absence of analysis, which is the Prime Minister's position? Or are we interested in having a sensible energy strategy that meets Canadian interests and creates more jobs and creates energy security in the context of a larger climate plan that meets environmental and economic goals?

I never thought I would see the day in Canada when the premier of Alberta was more prepared to talk about a national energy plan than the federal government was. It is absolutely bizarre. Stephen Harper has a single-minded number one goal no matter what you are talking about—oil sands development. It really doesn't make any sense.