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Is Justin Trudeau Listening To Pipeline Concerns, Or Just Pretending?

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I'm pretty good at pretending to listen to people. My parents were probably the first people I pretended to listen to, but, since then I've pretended to listen to teachers, police officers, colleagues and, much to their chagrin, more than a couple romantic partners.

In my years of pretending to listen, I've learned a few things, but mostly that you can only keep up the charade for so long. Eventually, people realize that I'm not listening. When they do, I scramble to recover, but whatever excuse I come up with, the truth is out there that I wasn't listening, I was just hoping that I looked like I was.

During the 2015 election, the Liberal Party promised to listen to Canadians in an unprecedented way, and as we get closer to marking the first year of their government, signs have been good that they're trying to follow through. So much so that when it comes to climate change, it can feel like the government is trying to consult us to death.

The thing about consultation though -- it only counts if the consulter is actually listening, and not just hoping the they appear to be listening.

Of course this is a little hyperbolic, but not by much. Back in April the government started a series town-hall meetings hosted by Members of Parliament for the so-called "National Climate Strategy." In July they started a second round of public meetings on the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline, the same month that they announced plans to consult the public on an overhaul of Canada's environmental assessment and energy regulation laws and bodies. Then, earlier this week, they officially kicked off the National Energy Board review of the Energy East pipeline.

On the surface, all this consultation seems like a welcome relief from the toil those of us concerned about things like climate change felt under Stephen Harper's government. A government who at least wants to pretend to listen to us is miles ahead of one who didn't even want to listen to their own scientists, let alone the public. The thing about consultation though -- it only counts if the consulter is actually listening, and not just hoping the they appear to be listening.

On April 28th, Catherine McKenna, Canada's Minister of Climate Change and Environment hosted the first town-hall for the National Climate Strategy. It was a full house with nearly 300 people turning out, many sporting stickers aligning themselves with the People's Climate Plan, a simple statement that real climate action in Canada needs to achieve three things: keep enough fossil fuels in the ground to meet our climate obligations, move to a 100 per cent renewable energy economy by 2050, and do both in a way that ensures justice for workers and Indigenous Peoples.

Since then, there have been dozens of town halls, and time and time again, MPs and Ministers are hearing the same thing. If they want to get serious on climate change, they need to walk their talk. That starts with keeping fossils fuels in the ground, committing to the pillars of the People's Climate Plan and rejecting projects like the Kinder Morgan and Energy East tar sands pipelines.

In mid-July, Justin Trudeau's ministerial Kinder Morgan review panel also started its own town halls along the route of the pipeline. Despite only having days to organize for the hastily launched consultations, communities have shown up and delivered resounding opposition to the project. By one count, at least 80 per cent of the hundreds of people who have shown up oppose the pipeline.

No matter how you cut it, approving a project that is being challenged in court by indigenous peoples isn't reconciliation.

I could easily keep going and talk about the fisherman, farmers and First Nations groups that are turning up already at the National Energy Board hearings in New Brunswick to oppose Energy East, but it would just lead to the same conclusion. When it comes to climate consultation, the federal government is great at asking questions, but are they actually listening to the answers?

The truth is, I don't know. The government of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr in particular, have made no secret that they want to approve a pipeline. The prime minister has even gone as far as to claim that a pipeline, a project built to expand fossil fuel extraction, would somehow facilitate a transition away from fossil fuels. But, despite the rhetoric, the scientific reality is stark. Simply put, Canada cannot expand the tar sands and at the same time hit the climate targets we agreed to in Paris, especially not the ambition we championed to strive to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

But, climate change is only one question that this government is going to struggle with the answer to. As stark as the scientific reality is, equally stark is the moral conundrum they face in recognizing that they cannot approve a project like the Kinder Morgan pipeline and claim to respect indigenous rights. No matter how you cut it, approving a project that is being challenged in court by indigenous peoples isn't reconciliation.

Listening to Canadians like no government before ever has is a noble goal, but when you make that kind of claim, you can't pretend not to hear it when the people tell you something you don't like. In this case, when thousands of people are showing up day after day and week after week to say that they don't want a pipeline in their backyard, that they want to see follow through on climate promises and they want indigenous rights respected, the real test becomes what the government does after their consultations.

Like I said, I've gotten pretty good at pretending to listen over the years, and right now I'm worried that's just what the federal government is doing when it comes to climate action in Canada, pretending.

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