On October 10, hundreds of people marched through downtown Montreal to protest the Energy East and Line 9B pipelines. The demonstration was organized by the Étudiant(e)s contre les oléoducs (ÉCO), and as such, most of the participants were students, including a contingent from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). Also present were supporters of the Green Party of Canada, including the party’s leader, Elizabeth May.
The Daily spoke with May on the street as the demonstrators marched and chanted against environmental degradation and pipeline projects.
The McGill Daily (MD): Why are you here today?
Elizabeth May (EM): I am the leader of the only party in Canada that opposes every pipeline and [that] has candidates running in every province. To show support and solidarity with the movement here in Quebec, I was thrilled that I was able to organize my schedule to be here.
MD: From what I can understand and what I can see, this is more than just about the environment. Could you talk a bit in regards to that?
EM: I don’t think there is anything more important than dealing with climate change, and every single pipeline would result in an expansion of the [tar] sands [in Alberta] and increased greenhouse gases from Canada. But there are other reasons. […] There is the risk of spills all along the route. We know that bitumen mixed with diluent is impossible to clean up. We didn’t know that from studies, we found out from the first big accident when Enbridge pumped bitumen and diluent into the Kalamazoo river. And that was years ago – now, they still haven’t cleaned it up. […] So there is that risk, but there is also of course economic [problems]. […] The whole point of every pipeline currently being proposed is to ship bitumen to refineries in other countries. […] It ships jobs out of Canada, and works against the goal of stopping the growth of the oil sands. So, we’re also the only party that says we have to stop expanding the oil sands and start the process of phasing out fossil fuels.
“I am the leader of the only party in Canada that opposes every pipeline and [that] has candidates running in every province.”
MD: And there are also the matters of Indigenous rights and women’s rights.
EM: Oh, absolutely! […] Every pipeline being proposed crosses through the unceded territory, or protected title and treaty rights of First Nations. The First Nations have not been engaged [by the government] in this discussion. And after [the 2014 Supreme Court decision that granted land title to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation], it’s clear that First Nations don’t just require consultation, they actually have the right to make the decision about what happens on their territories.
And here I’m marching with the [Mur des femmes contre les oléoducs] – it’s an organization of the women of Quebec standing against Energy East. So I was very honoured they invited me to join to carry this banner.
MD: As the leader of the Green Party, you were saying that yours is the only mainstream party that actually takes a stance against environmental degradation.
EM: We have the strongest policies. The Liberals and the [New Democratic Party (NDP)] – either one of them is better than Harper. But they don’t really grasp the urgency or the kind of choices we have to make. We know that Justin Trudeau is in favour of Keystone, but against Enbridge; in favour of Energy East, and probably in favour of Kinder Morgan. Mr. Mulcair is against Keystone, but for Energy East; against Enbridge, but apparently prepared to accept Kinder Morgan, but [with] a different review process first.
“The Liberals and the NDP – either one of them is better than Harper. But they don’t really grasp the urgency or the kind of choices we have to make.”
We’re unequivocal and we stand on the principle that we have to have policies that ensure we’re moving off fossil fuels, that we stop the growth in the oil sands. We’re against every single one of these pipelines, because they carry a dangerous material that’s impossible to clean up. And you could produce the bitumen in Alberta and refine it there, as you phase out dependency on fossil fuels across Canada and around the world.
Canada, I hope, [after the elections] will be back in [the World Climate Summit in Paris in December 2015] as a completely different country than we’ve been under Stephen Harper. Because the rest of the world in climate negotiations has grown to, well, really to hate us. We need to restore our reputation in the world by actually going into negotiations with real climate targets […] instead of dragging the negotiations down, as we have under Stephen Harper for the past nine years.
MD: I suppose it’s really unfortunate that you won’t be able to talk about these issues in an English language national debate.
EM: I think it’s unfortunate for all Canadians that Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair have managed to get the debates cancelled [as a result of their refusal to participate], because a lot of Canadians have not yet made up their mind, how they plan to vote. […] In every election for more than thirty years, we’ve had an English language national debate. The last election, 11 million people watched the English language debate.
“No one’s holding Harper to account […] for contempt of Parliament, for gagging scientists, and for passing [Bill] C-51.”
But beyond that, no one’s holding Harper to account […] for contempt of Parliament, for gagging scientists, and for passing [Bill] C-51. These are not issues Canadians are hearing discussed because the English language debate was cancelled. So I think it’s really an affront to democracy to have such an important part of our elections cancelled.
And I’m sure hoping that youth vote turns out this election, because youth turning out to vote is going to change everything. Harper will be sent packing, we’ll have more Green MPs, and we’ll find a way and I will force this issue. [It] may not sound cooperative to use the word force, but I will force cooperation among the more progressive voices in Parliament so that we have a four-year government – a Parliament – that’s more stable and productive than what we would have if we allowed the parties to continue partisan squabbling.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.