Public-Private Colonialism

Canada’s buyout of the Kinder Morgan pipeline within the “national interest” of white supremacist capitalism

Kinder Morgan protest dogging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (pic. Eric Doherty)

We have been bombarded by the propaganda of Justin Trudeau’s Federal and Rachel Notley’s Alberta governments that the Kinder Morgan pipeline is in Canada’s “national interest.” When Kinder Morgan pulled out of the project at the end of May, Ottawa immediately stepped in with a $4.2 billion offer to purchase the pipeline. Ottawa has agreed to pick up the costs of building the project – currently estimated at $7.9 billion, but the final tab could run close to $10 billion.

Now that the pipeline is state-owned, we must ask the question: what is the nature of the Canadian state and whose interests does it serve? To get to the roots of the problem, we need to understand the Canadian state as a colonial, capitalist, and imperialist project, which is directly antagonistic to interests of Indigenous and working class people, as well as those of the earth, which supports all life.

Canada was founded as a colonial settler state through the violent dispossession of Indigenous peoples, which went hand-in-hand with efforts to create a “national economy” through projects like the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). A highly concentrated and powerful Canadian capitalist class was created on the basis of stolen land and labour exploitation – including the hyper-exploitation of racialized labour, for example in the case of the CPR, which relied on migrant labourers from China.

The Canadian economy has always been connected to a larger international economy, as part of the imperialist British Empire, and as an export-dependent economy that relies on foreign capital, especially from the US. By the beginning of the twentieth century, large Canadian firms were investing in imperialism abroad, including in the Caribbean and Latin America. Imperialist-driven economic expansion has created enormous wealth within the Canadian state, but, as we know, that wealth is unequally distributed, and comes at the expense of Indigenous and working class people in the Global South and within the colonial borders of Canada. This wealth has also taken the form of seemingly endless and often unnecessary consumption, generating huge amounts of waste.

The vast and ever-expanding scale of production, a defining feature of capitalism, has contributed to a severe and rapidly escalating global environmental crisis and catastrophic climate change. If this trend is not reversed, millions in the Global South will become climate change refugees at a time when imperialist states are looking to harden or close their borders. Gigantic multinational corporations and the imperialist states that serve their interests will be the very last to pay for the threats to the survival of the earth that they have created.

Rather than come out against these corporations, labour activists have been conspicuously absent from the anti-pipeline movement. Some unions have even responded with narrow self-interest, going as far as to demand the pipeline be built. This echoes the Canadian labour movement’s historical acceptance of white supremacist and colonial ideologies, which did much to weaken working class struggle in the twentieth century. Further, it leaves the door wide to big NGOs and white environmentalists who appeal to the middle class. This limits the anti-pipeline movement, centering impacts rather than causes and avoiding any deeper political analysis or direct criticism of capitalism.

The economy of the Canadian state has been blessed or cursed with a large reserve of fossil fuels and other minerals. This created great boom conditions in Alberta when the cost of production of conventional oil was low and the price high. Now the dirtier and more destructive tar sands are the primary source. Capitalists view the tar sands as a potential windfall (but only if the price is right because production costs are much higher). In parts of the world including the US the price of filthy tar sands oil is discounted. So, pipelines become a “national necessity” to export their product to Asia where they can get full market price.

However, many Indigenous people resist the destruction of the land (air, earth, and water) on which all creatures depend. They are the main force and leadership resisting tar sands pipelines and mineral projects on their land.

Opponents of Kinder Morgan say that the federal ownership of the pipeline changes nothing; their opposition will remain firm. Already over 200 people have been arrested and face charges as a result of anti-pipeline protests on Burnaby Mountain. Over 10,000 people have been mobilized against the pipeline as a destructive environmental project that violates Indigenous sovereignty.

However, the Trudeau government’s purchase of the pipeline could put activists at greater risk. The government may attempt to further split band councils and moderate leaders. If they can isolate the radicals, they will be able strike very hard (especially against Indigenous people) with full force of the RCMP or even the army. To prevent this we need to build greater resistance and solidarity, especially among all of us oppressed by the Canadian state.

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