Bruce Livesey, writing in The Guardian, suspects there's a Chinese angle that's driving Trudeau to go to any lengths to keep the Trans Mountain pipeline alive.
Trudeau’s ferocious desire to build the pipeline at any cost seems bizarre on the face of it. Ostensibly, his government claims the pipeline is good for the Canadian economy. But the pipeline will be shipping unrefined oil – known as bitumen – to be refined in the US and Asia. This will cost oil refinery jobs in Canada, which is where most employment in the oil industry exists. Canada has been closing refineries for years now. The pipeline will only accelerate this trend.
Moreover, developing the oil sands ensures Canada will never come close to meeting its commitments to the Paris climate accord. In 2015, Trudeau promised to cut emissions dramatically: 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. But most of the oil in Alberta’s tar sands will have to stay in the ground to prevent a global warming catastrophe.
So what’s going on?
The logic to Trudeau’s action may lie in an obscure and often overlooked agreement called the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Fipa).
This agreement, ratified in 2014, was negotiated by the previous Harper government. It was passed without a vote in Parliament. Fipa, which remains in place until 2045, was signed to ensure that China got a pipeline built from Alberta to BC, among other benefits.
...Yet this Fipa is the sort of agreement that undermines the sovereignty of nations to the benefit of private interests. Fipas are Canada’s name for bilateral investment treaties, which are frequently used by corporations around the world to challenge public policies or community decisions that interfere with their ability to make money. Canada’s first Fipa took the form of a single chapter in the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Since then, Canada has paid out $160m to US corporations who challenged public decisions, including environmental policy. Canadian mining companies are using Fipas with developing countries to claim damages from community opposition to unwanted mega-projects.
In the case of the Fipa with China, it notably allows Chinese energy companies to challenge local, provincial and federal policies or laws that interfere with their “right” to make a profit from energy projects. So any environmental regulations, or halted pipelines, or First Nations land claims, could be subject to lawsuits brought by Chinese corporate interests. (Conversely, Canadian companies operating in China have the same rights to do the same thing over there.) A clause in the Fipa, called Investor State Arbitration, gives them this capacity.
“More troubling, there is no requirement in the treaty for the federal government to make public the fact of a Chinese investor’s lawsuit against Canada until an award has been issued by a tribunal,” Osgoode Hall international investment law professor Gus Van Harten has noted.
“This means that the federal government could settle the lawsuit by paying out public money before an award is issued, and we would never know.”
...Trudeau is desperate to keep China happy. A senior Chinese official said this will require Canadian concessions . In 2016, his government began negotiating a free trade agreema on investment restrictions and a commitment to build an energy pipeline to the coast”.
Trudeau is desperate to keep China happy. In 2016, his government began negotiating a free trade agreement with China. At the time, the Globe and Mail reported, “a senior Chinese official said this will require Canadian concessions on investment restrictions and a commitment to build an energy pipeline to the coast”.
Now he has bought that pipeline, and will have to live with the political fallout, which will likely include protesters, court cases and other acts of civil disobedience. In what might be a strategy to avoid lawsuits from Chinese companies that may result in massive secret payouts, Trudeau’s government may find itself arresting Canadians.