Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s “not an ideal situation” that 14 people were arrested Monday in northwestern B.C. over a protest against construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.
Trudeau made the comment Wednesday on CBC’s radio program Daybreak Kamloops, prior to his visit to the city to attend a Liberal party fundraiser and a town hall gathering.
The prime minister said his government has been working on reconciliation but the dispute over the pipeline, a key part of the $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas project in Kitimat, is “still an ongoing process.”
“There are a number of people and communities who are supportive, there are a number of folks who disagree with it,” he said in a phone interview with CBC host Shelley Joyce.
RCMP moved in Monday to enforce an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court that ordered removal of anyone interfering with the Coastal GasLink project in and around the Morice River Bridge, on a remote forest service road southwest of Houston.
The pipeline company, which launched its new name of TC Energy on Wednesday, has said it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the route but demonstrators say Wet’suwet’en house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected, have not given their consent.
The gas-pipeline project is worth billions to the B.C. economy and questions of Indigenous authority and rights resonate across the country.
It is important to “leave room for people to express their concerns and be heard and be listened to,” said Trudeau, although he also said he would not visit the blockade site.
“One of the things that is really important is to try to reduce the temperature a little bit,” he said.
“Sometimes engaging that way is actually raising the political attention and the stakes in something that we want to push toward better understanding, better listening.”
The prime minister’s trip to Kamloops is the start of an outreach tour that will expand across the country, and he’s also set to meet with the city’s mayor, Ken Christian, and two Indigenous leaders.
The federal riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo is currently held by Conservative MP Cathy McLeod and the Liberals are eyeing B.C. as a key battleground for the election in October.
Since 2017, Trudeau has held town halls in cities across Canada in the winter, making stops that resemble a campaign road tour.
The prime minister will be travelling to different regions to stay connected to and engage directly with Canadians, said Eleanore Catenaro, a press secretary with the Prime Minister’s Office.
Trudeau moves on to Regina on Thursday.
“Similar to past years, it will offer an opportunity for Canadians to discuss a wide range of topics, and how we create more jobs and grow the economy to benefit all Canadians,” Catenaro said in a statement.
The Canadian Press