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Members of Prime Minister’s Youth Council call to end Trans Mountain Pipeline buyout, SU president abstains

By Matty Hume, July 20 2018 —

On July 16, a sign-on letter addressed to the federal government of Canada in both French and English was made available to the public. The purpose of the letter is made clear in its title: “Canadian youth sign-on letter: Cancel the Kinder Morgan buyout.”

The letter, signed by 17 of the 36 members of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council (PMYC), outlines the reasons for the letter and three calls for action from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The three requests are for the government to cancel the buyout of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, condemn recent rhetoric calling for violence against protestors and hold a special Parler Session inviting the youth of affected groups to discuss the issue with further public engagement.

Nmesoma Nweze, a member of the PMYC from Iqaluit, Nunavut, started the action with other concerned friends before presenting it to members of the PMYC.

The PMYC contains three cohorts of members. Two cohorts are active at all times, with overlapping two-year terms to ensure continuity as the PMYC roster changes. Nweze is part of cohort one, whose contract ends in September. The most recent in-person meeting of the PMYC with Trudeau occured in June — the first meeting to include cohort three in place of cohort one.

“Our original plan was to write a draft and send it to someone in cohort two to present to the prime minister in person,” Nweze said. “The next in-person meeting was very, very close, so we decided we can make a petition. It was all very organic how it started.”

The initial draft was created by Nweze and Jacqueline Lee-Tam, listed on the sign-on letter as a contributor from the Unceded Coast Salish Territories of the Squamish, Musqueaum and Tsleil-Waututh, Vancouver, British Columbia.

The first point summarizing the purpose of the sign-on letter states, “Buying and building the Trans Mountain pipeline project violates your promise to protect British Columbia’s coast.”

“The pipeline itself and the building of the pipeline has all sorts of issues and when you add the federal government buying the pipeline out, it really changes the way these Indigenous groups can negotiate,” Nweze said. “The timing of it really sends a message, of kind of deciding to temper if not really put their foot down in terms of the negotiations in power. These people still have their rights and their sovereignty.”

The second point says the buying and building of the pipeline project “is setting up the Paris Agreement for failure,” referring to the United Nations effort to curb climate change. The third states the project is “is in violation of [the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] and the Liberal Party’s plan to renew nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous Peoples.”

“Even if it’s one-hundred-thousand-billion to one, that’s still one group that has their right and their sovereignty to protect their lands how they want to and outright refuse, no matter what options are given to them,” Nweze said.

University of Calgary Students’ Union president Sagar Grewal is a member of cohort three of the PMYC. The sign-on letter has seven signatures from members of cohort three. Grewal is not among them.

“In regards to the letter, I did choose to not sign it along with 19 other members,” Grewal said. “I do believe it’s important for Canada to engage in sustainable development and I think that should be the goal. I do believe economy and environment are both priorities that have to be considered and both need to be protected.”

As a member of the third cohort, Grewal said his cohort was approached in a late stage of the letter’s drafting.

“Cohorts one and two had a bit more discussion around it and more of an opportunity to contribute or voice concerns if they had any, whereas for cohort three, we were actually brought in at a final draft stage,” Grewal said. “At that point, I didn’t feel comfortable signing it.

“One of my concerns with the letter was that I found it to be very partisan,” he continued. “For example, it did actually address the Liberal Party’s commitments which is a reason why I felt uncomfortable signing it.”

The second of the three calls for action from the Prime Minister is to condemn recent rhetoric for violence against protestors. A notable example is a string of tweets from prominent Calgary businessman and television personality W. Brett Wilson, who called for the hanging of pipeline protestors.

Wilson was recently on the U of C campus to speak at an event on cannabis legalization at the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking in MacHall.

Grewal said he is in agreement with the second call for action.

“I think one point that I did agree with in the letter, however, is to urge the government so that they don’t engage in violent actions against protestors,” he said. “We need to ensure that the government does not take violent acts against any protestors who are voicing their perspectives and their opinions and views — they do need to be respected.”

“No matter who you are, I don’t think that anyone feels comfortable in a country or environment wherein you will have to choose between losing the life that you want to live with the quality of life that you want, and dying to have that being rolled over,” Nweze said. “I think it’s extremely sad and dangerous. It’s very important that the government condemns that rhetoric and promises that that type of violence will never occur, especially in Canada.”

According to Nweze, the current goal behind the sign-on letter is to have enough signatures for the letter to be addressed in Parliament, while inciting a general awareness for political conversations and action among Canadian youth. According to the Parliament of Canada’s guide for creating and submitting electronic petitions, a petition can receive a response from the government with a minimum of 500 signatures.

Although the PMYC is fairly evenly split between those who signed the letter and those who did not, Grewal said that discussions between council members have remained civil.

“Discussions have been very respectful. I think all youth council members need to acknowledge that we all come from very diverse backgrounds and have different lived experience and perspectives on issues,” Grewal said. “It is our job as leaders to ensure that we are being respectful of those differing opinions to ensure that we can have a meaningful dialogue about that.”

The sign-on letter is available for public signatures here. At presstime, the sign-on letter has amassed over 1,800 public signatures.

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