Justin Trudeau May Look Pretty in a Kayak, But He’s No Climate Saint

Last week Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed to capture international headlines for a kayak outing on the Niagara River in Ontario.

How, you may ask? Well Trudeau paddled up to a family’s dock and had a brief conversation with them about water levels. According to Elle Magazine, he looked “picture perfect” while doing it. It all very quickly became a Twitter sensation.

Trudeau’s photogenic boat trip coincided with World Environment Day and in a speech afterward, the prime minister vowed to continue to fight climate change.

The American press, still bewildered by their president’s widely criticized decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, went wild.

"Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kayaks over to a family to discuss climate change,” read a headline in a San Francisco publication.

"A Chiseled Justin Trudeau Casually Kayaked Up to This Family’s Dock to Talk About Climate Change” exclaimed Cosmopolitan.

"The Quebequois [sic] Prom King was out here in these lakes paddling in support of World Environment Day, which is a holiday we no longer celebrate in the United States,” wrote R. Eric Thomas for Elle. “It's been replaced by a tire fire and a 21-aerosol can salute."

Trudeau’s PR team (which you gotta admit is pretty brilliant) hit up Instagram with this post.

"Canada is all in” to protect the planet for future generations.

It’s a really nice sentiment.

If only it were true.

While Trudeau laps up the praise that comes with not being Donald Trump, he’s also been busy approving major new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In November, Trudeau approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which if built will ship 690,000 barrels of oilsands bitumen to Canada’s West Coast for export by oil tanker through endangered orca habitat.

On the same day, he also approved an application from Enbridge to increased the capacity on its Line 3 from 390,000 to 915,000 barrels per day.

Last fall Trudeau also approved a giant liquefied natural gas export facility on the north coast of British Columbia. If built, Pacific Northwest LNG, will be one of the single largest carbon polluters in Canada. It  just so happens to be smack dab in the middle of critical salmon habitat. Trudeau’s decision on this project was seen as a litmus test for his commitment to meet Canada’s climate targets. Guess what? He failed.

Meantime, in his World Environment Day speech Trudeau said: “The future is still bright for those who have the courage to confront hard truths and the confidence to stay the course."

Yes, let’s talk about hard truths.

Last summer Trudeau failed another litmus test when he approved the Site C mega hydro dam against the objections of two First Nations. If built, the dam will flood more than 100 kilometres of river valley in northern British Columbia for power that's not clearly needed. A review found the dam will result in significant and irreversible adverse impacts on Treaty 8 First Nations. That’s a hard truth.

"We have a responsibility to future generations, and we will uphold it," Trudeau said in his speech last week.

To give credit where its due, Trudeau has successfully implemented a pan-Canadian climate strategy that puts a $50/tonne price on carbon by 2022, phases out coal-fired power by 2030 and introduces new building codes.

It was no small feat to get Canada's province's and territories to agree to a price on carbon and Trudeau deserves praise for that victory. But he’s simultaneously approved projects that are almost certain to prevent Canada from meeting its climate targets and that carry other enormous environmental risks.

Trudeau has this uncanny knack for getting a standing ovation from energy executives one day and then getting applauded as a climate-saving hero the next.

The reality is he has some hard truths to face: it’s not possible to both approve massive fossil fuel expansion and ramp down greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Now if only he’d make a viral Instagram post about that.

Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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