DEBATE: How Does Oil & Gas Divestment Affect Indigenous Communities in Canada?

Debate - Mike Smyth Show - April 6th, 2023 - oil and gas divestment and first nations in Canada

As more First Nations in Canada look to natural resources projects as a means of economic reconciliation, what is the effect of the divestment movement on these communities?

Mike Smyth, host of The Mike Smyth Show on 980 CKNW out of Vancouver, joins Cody Battershill, Founder and Chief Spokesperson of Canada Action, to discuss the merits of oil and gas divestment and Indigenous proponents of energy projects in Canada.


Or, keep reading for the full transcript of the debate below between Cody and Markus Petersen, an activist with the group Decolonial Solidarity that was part of recent protests in B.C. Also see:


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Mike: Right, here we go now with our oil and gas fossil fuels debate. We've got both sides of it here for you. An excellent panel coming up.

We've talked on this show before about the divestment movement, and that's the movement to force big institutions and organizations like pension funds or banks to pull funding for oil and gas projects like pipelines.

Have a listen to.... here from the environmental group on divestment. Listen. The divestment movement is about something quite simple. If it's wrong to cause climate change, it's wrong to profit from causing climate change.

And the divestment movement has taken off all over the world with this as its rallying cry. A growing number of investors representing a growing amount of capital do not want to be associated with this industry any longer. It is a rogue industry.

Mike: Okay, this past weekend on April Fool's Day, there was a rally outside the Royal Bank of Canada headquarters in Vancouver. They called it Fossil Fools Day. Fossil Fools.

The group was angry about the bank's investments in pipelines like the coastal GasLink pipeline, especially in the face of climate change.

All right, let's discuss this now. We got both sides of it for you.

Marcus Peterson on the line. Marcus is the spokesperson for Decolonial Solidarity and was one of the protesters on Fossil Fools Day in Vancouver.

Hey, Marcus, thanks for coming on.

Markus: Good morning.

Mike: Thanks for doing this.

Also on the line is Cody Battershill. Cody is the founder of Canada Action. That's a pro-oil and gas advocacy group.

Hey, Cody.

Cody: Hey. Good morning, Mike and Marcus.

Mike: Thank you to both of you for doing this.

Marcus, let me go to you first. Tell me about the rally that you guys had on the weekend.

Marcus: Yeah, sure. So we met up on, as you said, Fossil Fuels Day. Our campaign is specifically addressing RBC's fossil fuel financing, as you said, including the financing of the CGL Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Specifically, our grievances are that it crosses through unceded Wet'suwet'en territory. The Wet'suwet'en land defenders, under the governance of the hereditary chiefs, are currently opposing this.

It's the largest fracking... It's 670 kilometres, runs through approximately a quarter of it runs through Wet'suwet'en territory. And traditional leadership of the Wet'suwet'en nation have never approved, never consented to this pipeline, and they've been imposing it since 2012.

Even the BC government has charged the pipeline's builder TC Energy with hundreds of environmental violations and two substantial fines, while RBC continues to invest billions of their clients money into this project.

Mike: Okay, so it's not supported by those hereditary chiefs, as you mentioned, but it is supported by or some of the hereditary chiefs

It is supported by the elected banned councils, though, of the Wet'suwet'en, right?

Marcus: Yes, that's right. The Wet'suwet'en elected banned councils, which are a colonial imposed system, imposed by the Indian Act.

They have given their approval, however, they only have jurisdiction over their reserve lands and the pipeline actually doesn't pass through the reserve land.

It's the hereditary chiefs that actually have control over the traditional territories and where the actual pipeline passes through and they have never consented to it.

Mike: Okay, Cody Battershill. What do you say to that?

Cody: Well, I've talked with a lot of Wet'suwet'en people who have and Indigenous leaders who have told me that these big protests aren't really representing the people.

As we just talked about, Coastal GasLink has Indigenous ownership. Sixteen of the 20 nations along the route have a 10% ownership once it's complete. And all 20 of 20 communities, their elected leaders have voted to support the project and have benefit agreements.

So I think at a very broad level, we need to step back and maybe we need to let the communities themselves, the Indigenous people themselves, speak to each other and work this out internally without these outside influences.

I mean, last night CBC was saying that these violent attacks are anarchists coming from outside of the area, even from as far away as the USA. Is that really going to help these communities heal and is it really going to help these communities develop their economic sovereignty and get people out of poverty.

Mike: Right. You're talking about the attack on a Coastal GasLink work site there from several months ago that is still under investigation by the police.

Marcus, what do you say to that, like when Cody makes the point know, we should let first nations deal with this themselves?

Marcus: Well, like I said, it's the hereditary chiefs that have control over these lands and they have never consented. Those attacks, actually, there have never been any charges, let alone convictions of those attacks. 

There has never been any confirmed connection with any of the Wet'suwet'en villages, ...checkpoint or otherwise. 

The recent raid just last week, the violent militarized invasion of ...village sites and arrested five land defenders, mostly of whom were Indigenous women, including ...daughter on behalf of the RBC funded pipeline was completely irresponsible. There was no connection, no actual evidence provided. They couldn't even finish reading the charges or the reason why they were arresting these people. They just barged in. 

So we believe that this is a classic divide and conquer tactic. It's been done many times before with many other nations that the oil and gas industry provides some benefits to some nations to the detriment of others. 

And we're not here to criticize... I'm not here to criticize the decisions of certain nations to survive. No one should have to make these kinds of decisions facing down assimilation, colonial destruction, environmental racism. 

These are difficult decisions that are made in times of crisis and I just hope that we can work together more in the future.

Mike: Cody, what do you say to that?

Cody: Well, there's hundreds of Indigenous workers that are working on this pipeline and I think everyone listening would agree that when you go to work, you have a right to be safe. 

We've got the federal liberal government supporting this project, the BC government supporting this project, and we have all of these different First Nations along the route, workers, businesses, working on this project. 

We have seen on the CBC video from Rob Brown just last night, some of the leaders of some of these protests who invited anarchists to come to the area... And yeah, there haven't been any charges yet, but they've also been attacking RCMP vehicles. 

I mean, we need to remember that our police are doing a very difficult job. And if there's a court order and you break the court order, we do live in a society that does respect the rule of law. 

The pipeline itself has made hundreds and hundreds, thousands of contact and meetings and we need to work this out together. 

RBC, I mean, right now you've got nations that want to become owners. Coastal GasLink again, let's just remember, Indigenous ownership.

So what Marcus is really saying is that RBC should not fund the Indigenous communities who want to own the pipeline to have own source revenues.

That's wrong. It hurts those communities, it hurts Canadians, and it helps Russia and other countries like OPEC members who are going to export the natural gas anyways.

It's just wrong.

Mike: Okay, go ahead.

Marcus: I just want to remind everyone that again, there have been no charges laid. There have been no convictions for any of these attacks. No one knows exactly who did them. And I just want to remind that consultation is not consent. They are not the same thing. 

Both Wet'suwet'en traditional law and the Supreme Court of Canada agree that none... of these nations have ever surrendered their territory. And that title to the land belongs to the nation's hereditary chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink. That's under the... decision in 1997. 

None of the First Nations that consented to the pipeline are actually on the pipeline route. This is pure corporate colonialism... ...claim to be a climate leader and respect Indigenous rights while funding the violation of Indigenous rights, continuing to be Canada's largest funder of coal, tar sands and gas. 

Mike: Hey Marcus, let me play a clip here for you from an Indigenous leader because I think this sort of, sort of cuts the diamond in many ways for Indigenous people who actually support these pipelines and in some cases are working to construct them.

So this is Ellis Ross, the liberal MLA at the legislature. He's the former elected Chief of the Haisla First Nation. And he's asked here, why do you support the Coastal Gas Link pipeline? And listen to his response here. Then I'll get your thoughts. Ellis Ross.

Ellis: provides a way out of the crippling poverty that First Nations endear all across Canada. 80% to 90% unemployment, the highest rates of suicide, the highest rates of people going to prison, the highest rates of our children going into care.  

If you keep doing the same thing over and over and over and keep expecting different results. That's a definition of stupidity. 

Mike: So what would you say to him, Marcus, when he makes the argument that First Nations who support the projects like this are working on this project? They're trying to improve their quality of life, their standard of living, and all the problems that First Nations have that he outlined here.

And so when groups like yours say no, we need to shut it down, what would you say to Indigenous people who support and work on these projects?

Marcus: Eventually, we are all going to have to transition away from fossil fuels. The latest IPCC report says that projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5 degrees Celsius warming. 

We have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all mark billion dollars in 2022 alone. To companies involved in fossil fuel expansion, that's a 45% ...increase over 2021 levels. 

Look, a just transition must be just that. It has to be just to succeed. We need everyone on board, all Canadians, Indigenous nations, unions, workers, everyone who has a stake in a habitable future. We need good paying, future proof jobs and adequate funding for reskilling and training programs. 

According to some estimates, 90% of oil and gas jobs can be transferred to clean energy jobs. And we could gain 700,000 energy jobs in a net zero world, like this is a net positive if we just move away from fossil fuels. 

Mike: Okay, let's give Cody a chance. Here, Cody brief reply, and then we got to fit a break in here. Go ahead.

Cody: Marcus didn't answer the question. He's pro poverty. We've got these Indigenous leaders talking about getting their communities, giving their communities a chance to succeed, a chance to advance. And the reality is we need all energy sources. 

So just picking winners and losers based on some hereditary chiefs versus all these other Indigenous communities. 

What about Haisla? What about the Cedar LNG? What about Ksi Lisims? What about all of this support? 

These First Nations are becoming owners. They want to attract investment. They want equity in major deals on their territories. And these protests damage their ability to get funding.

It's really unfair. 

Mike: James and White Rock. Hi, James. Go ahead.

James: Hi. I was a former oil worker in my younger years, and the amount of money that you can make without an education on the oil patch supersedes any environmental job that you can get in the industry. 

Your average solar panel installer makes 40 grand a year. Your average rig worker makes 90,000 in seven months. 

You tell me how you're going to transition these just jobs to people that are in the oil patch, that make that kind of money without a high education, just a strong back, into making the same amount of money in the same amount of time in putting up solar panels and windmills. 

And where are you going to get the materials to build your solar panels and windmills? They got to come from somewhere. 

And First Nations. Leave them alone. They got to figure out their government on their own, and when they do, they'll let you know. I promise. 

Mike: Okay, Marcus, what do you say to them? Obviously, these oil and gas jobs pay well. What do you say to them?

Markus: Pay well because they're funded well. They make a lot of money from their investors, like RBC.

Like I said, Canada could gain 700,000 clean energy jobs in a net zero world, according to a new report by Clean Energy Canada. If we reverse our existing laws, we could lose 100,000 of these jobs. 

And according to a recent Abacus data poll, more than two thirds of Canadian fossil fuel workers are interested in jobs in a net zero economy. 58% of them see themselves thriving in that economy, and nearly nine in ten want training and upskilling for net zero employment. 

69% of workers said that they were interested in switching to a clean economy. 61% said that Canada should pivot to a net zero emissions economy, and 58% said that they would like to thrive in that economy. 

Mike: Okay, Cody, what do you say? Go ahead.

Cody: Marcus is protesting RBC and arguing against Indigenous peoples having access to capital and  investment to participate in the economy just because he doesn't like it. We need all energy sources. 

There is an obvious resounding level of support for Coastal GasLink for Cedar LNG for Ksi Lisims, for LNG Canada. We need to get our low-emission natural gas to the world. Demand for natural gas liquefied natural gas is going to grow by 76% to 2040, as well as demand for coal and wind and hydro and nuclear. 

All energy sources are growing. Coal demand right now is at a record high, as well as natural gas and renewables. So all of these things are happening at the same time. 

Consent is determined by communities. And how is Marcus going to decide which community gives consent and which community he supports? Many of these other communities, the hereditary chiefs, also do support the projects, and in some cases they're both elected and hereditary.  

So the conversation is not about choosing. 

Markus: No, that's... That's not true. I'm afraid that's not true. 

None of the hereditary chiefs, none of the five clans of the Wet'suwet'en have ever, ever consented to this pipeline project. 

The tactic of the enablers of the fossil fuel production industry and cheerleaders of the climate crisis used to be deny, deny, deny. That used to be the tactic. Deny the science, deny the data, deny the reality. Now they seem to have quietly evolved to tacitly accept the realities of climate change, but now the tactic is delay, delay, delay. 

They will do anything and everything in their power to maintain the status quo, make excuses, fabricate lies, spread, disinformation. 

It seems to me they progress past this denial stage of grieving, the death of oil and gas, and are in the bargaining stage. And I just hope that the planet can survive long enough to see them progress to the acceptance stage. 

And by the way, ethical oil thing, it's a campaign that began with Ezra Levant. 

It's totally wrong. 

Mike: Cody, you get the last word.  I got to stop in there, Marcus, because hang on. I got to give Cody a chance here because we only have 30 seconds left, sadly.

Cody, go ahead.

Cody: While we've got Indigenous peoples in Bay Street and Wall Street looking for ways around the challenges of the Indian Act to be more self-sufficient. 

And Marcus is pushing for them to stay there, to stay beholden to the Indian Act, they should have the sovereignty and right to choose for themselves and to decide which projects they want to develop right now.

Mike: Thank you guys. Thank you guys for a good discussion. I wish we had more time. We got a ton of phone calls here. We'll just have to have you back.

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