Justin's Pipeline Blues
February 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment
It’s an early West Coast morning….cold, wet and dark. I’m on my way to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (PMJT's) Town Hall meeting at Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo.
It has been a busy week in pipeline politics, the National Energy Board hearings in Burnaby, a review into the clean up of bitumen just announced by Horgan’s government, Alberta’s Notley threatening legal action and boycotting BC wines and Trudeau’s announcement from Edmonton that the pipeline will be built! We’re glued to CBC’s On The Island, awaiting the Friday panel to see what they have to say about the topic, and just finished listening to Trudeau’s CBC interview. I’m working on my third cup of coffee, which probably isn’t a good idea with over two hours of standing in line!
We thread our way down the hill, and there is already a long line of people waiting for the 9:00 am door opening, it’s wrapped around the cafeteria and heading for the media entrance to the gym. PMJT’s dark suits are already clearing the parking area at the rear of the gym, and it’s soon after we’re directed to move the line up the hill. I’m off shooting photos and talking with the crowd. It’s a mix of young and old, many students have taken a day off of school, a large mix of young people who have taken a day off of work and older protestors who have been out many times before.
The illegitimate blues, no Press Pass for you!
I meet up with two other photographer’s who don’t have press passes, so we’re off to the Press table to check out the process. The place is already filling up, mostly with video journalists, we follow the CBC crew in, but don’t get past the first gate. I sign in as a freelancer and register using my brokenfish Photography card and show my driver’s licence. We head off to clear with PMJT’s black suit, armed with a laptop and radio. “Not the legitimate press," he says, no pass for you. But he does have a sense of humour, I ask about getting my camera in through the door, he says “let me speak to my wrist” and calls over to the main admissions desk. He cleared that for me and the Nikon gets a yellow band on the strap. I look around, and one of us is missing, she got through the line!
Back in the line, and it’s much longer now, it seems to snake on forever into the mist rolling down the hill. And at 9:00 am, things start to move and just after 10:00, I’m into the gym.
The wait begins.. And it’s a déjà vu moment, I’m sitting in a high school volleyball tournament - Elton John’s Crocodile Rock is being pumped over the speakers, the bass is pounding, there are students dressed in their team jerseys. You can see the set up for the floor from the photos. When we first came through the door, I saw empty seats on the floor, but didn’t notice the reserved signs on the posts. Most of the floor was reserved seating, except for the area under the flag. That may change for future town halls, you’ll see why by the photos. We’re soon directed off of the floor, no wandering around, find a seat and stay there. We’re in the cheap seats, about half way up the far side bleachers. I do some quick math, and there’s room for 1400. Then the waiting begins…. and drags on. I start to make notes and check out the audience.
Sitting under the flag is a large contingent of First Nations, a mix of young and old. Many carrying drums and a few dressed in ceremonial blankets and hats. I spot Chief Bill Cranmer, hereditary chief of the 'Namgis First Nation and a small group of Elders talking quietly, there’s a lively group in the opposite corner, it’s Harjit Sajjan Minister of Defence, showing that it’s not just PMJT that works the selfies, and Jody Wilson-Raybould - Minister of Justice. She’s the MC.
I introduce myself to my seat mates, they’re two fishers that work on The Osprey a large fishing vessel that docks in Port Hardy and sitting below me a few rows down is a former leadership student, I think, and it’s not until the event is over that I catch up to say hello. There’s starting to be more action on the floor, six more bleachers are pulled out, announcements made about staying in your seat, apologies for not starting on time, but we’re never told why. Turns out PMJT’s flight is weather delayed in Vancouver. I didn’t think he’d overnight in Nanaimo.
Bad Mojo under the flag….
It’s pushing noon, there are now 1700 plus packing the gym with Kinder Morgan on their minds, many of them were lining up at 3:00 am to get the seats under the flag, and the crowd is getting restless. The music gets turned up, and finally Wilson-Raybould takes the mic and the intros begin. Chief Michael Wyse of the Snuneymuxw First Nation leads the Blessing and then PMJT comes striding in, just like the captain of the home team! But it’s to a chorus of boos, and not a small number. This has the appearance of a rough road ahead!
The Entrance PMJT jumps right in, explaining how the Q & A will work, and I’m sitting in a bad spot, his back is to me for most of the show, as he is moving to his right in a circle. As soon as it starts, there are “No Kinder Morgan” signs displayed for the TV cameras, and there’s some heckling coming from under the Canadian flag. PMJT tries to handle the flack, but loses his patience after 15 minutes, and turns the crowd on to the young man, a trick that doesn’t take much talent. With a snap of his fingers, the police are removing the young man. I’m trying to hop down from the bleachers, but I get noticed by the black suits, it’ll be a stretch with this lens of mine, I’m wishing for that 200 mm that’s sitting back in Courtenay.
Eject #1And with a snap of his fingers, the young man is hustled out the door.... The questions start, and there are references to pipelines, and question three gets right to it. PMJT puts forward the same answer as we heard on the radio, we have to push the pipeline through to Burnaby, that will enable us to meet our COP 15 limits on carbon emissions, and the national carbon tax will enable the world class marine protection that will allow us to clean up any spills. The crowd doesn’t buy it, more signs come out of pant legs, hanging for the TV cameras. And now the only photographer in the middle of the floor is PMJT’s.
Under the flag, more action begins. Many of the First Nations there are wanting answers about fish farms, and territorial violations granted by the Government. From my seat, I can see things heating up. You’d think that PMJT’s handlers would be all over that, and making sure that they’d get time for a question. And more heckling starts, this time from a young woman, who has no intention of backing down. PMJT does the crowd trick again, and the police are there. In a few minutes another young woman is carried out the side door, and a third bounces a water bottle off the PM’s stool, she’s hustled out the side door. And the questions just keep on rolling along, but I’m watching the group under the flag. Seemingly oblivious to the PM, the Elders have stood up, turned their backs on him and quietly made their way out of the gym.
Eject #2 The Elders leave....The Elders turn their backs on PMJT and exit the Town Hall There’s been much written about the event, topics other than the Pipeline covered, Trudeau showing up knowing he was going to get a rough ride. And in the end, nothing much really gets accomplished by an event like this, all sides get to claim a victory. But I’m left wondering about those protesters who were hauled out the doors, there’s a certain bravery demonstrated, standing up to the PM and a crowd of 1700 in a small space. Were they charged, or just turned away?
And did PMJT get the message? There’s a deep anger building along the West Coast, one centred around broken election promises, pipeline approvals, shrinking salmon runs, environmental damage and a lack of respect for First Nations. His climate claims are simply not true. If Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion goes through, it will increase carbon pollution and destroy any chance of meeting the weak Paris climate targets. Pump oil to save the climate, that just doesn't make any sense. And just ask the Heiltsuk Nation about world class marine clean-up, as the Nathan Stewart leaked oil for almost a month.
Keywords: brokenfish photography, environment, first nations, justin trudeau, kinder morgan, nanaimo, pipeline, protest, raucous, rowdy, town hall
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Sorry for the six month stay in St Davids!