Debating the Pipeline:
On the west coast, the Kinder Morgan – Trans Mountain pipeline project has been a growing controversy for several years. Yesterday, the Canadian government announced its intention to buy the troubled project, and start construction this summer.
Personally, I am against this project, for various reasons, economic, environmental, and in respect to Indigenous Rights. I have attended protest rallies, canvassed my neighbors, attended town hall meetings, written to my MP’s and MLA’s and volunteered on political campaigns, in my free time.
As a teacher, however, I don’t want to bring my own bias into class. I want to teach this moment in history and give students the ability to think critically in the midst of a very polarizing event.
I am teaching about Confederation. This is a text book example of the concerns of the first colonies to join Confederation, an experiment in the balance of federalism and the rights of provinces. It asks us the question – who are we ? Does the national interest trump the interests of locals ?
History is happening today.
The Debate: Set Up
I decided to look into this issue using a debate format. I think this set up could be used to discuss any controversial issue, while also attempting to get participants to view both sides.
I assigned the students readings from Thinking it Through: A Social Studies Source book which is a fantastic resource for teachers teaching the new BC curriculum. For this debate in particular it had different primary source documents from speeches and letters written by members of the Squamish First Nation, Justin Trudeau, as well as maps to show the direction of the pipeline.
I also gave students the opportunity to do their own research on the pipeline.
I asked the students to come up with one argument, to support or oppose the pipeline, based on their own opinion of the project.
The next day, I put students into groups of 4. In the groups of 4 they needed to think of 3 arguments supporting the pipeline, and 3 arguments to oppose. They were able to pool their own arguments, as well as build new arguments together. They put these arguments on big pieces of chart paper, and spent one class period doing research.
On the morning of the debate I divided the class in half. I asked each side to pick a leader to then flip a coin. The winner of the coin toss could decide whether they would be on the supporting or opposing side. Using the arguments that they had put together the day before – I asked the students to spend 10 minutes putting together their opening statement, and 3 best arguments.
After 10 minutes, each side said their opening statements and 3 arguments.
The debate format followed the image below:
I was very impressed by the work of the students, both on the for and against sides. Some of my favorite arguments for included:
- Canada is a resource based economy. We haven’t developed away from that yet. We want business to feel safe investing in us.
- We still rely on fossil fuels. We can use this money to help re-invest in renewable energy. We need a source of income for these new renewable energy projects.
- We need to create jobs for the people that need them. This is a project already in process.
My favorite against arguments included:
- (From a student from Japan) In my country, like your country, we have earthquakes. I have seen what an earthquake can do to projects like this. There could be a lot of environmental damage.
- If the pipeline breaks, all of the jobs that rely on the environment will be lost. In that scenario it won’t matter how many jobs the pipeline creates.
- Your arguments are from the pipeline company website – of course they support the pipeline construction.
- We need to protect the whales and protect the environment. Climate change is happening now.
At the end of the debate we had a class vote. 16 students thought that the pipeline should not be built, while 8 decided that they supported it. I feel like this might mirror the perceptions of British Columbians.
I think this exercise was a good for me as it was for the students. I needed to see the other side of this debate. Although my personal beliefs have not changed, I do have more of an understanding of the other side. Canada’s economy is largely resource based, if we want to change our economy, we need to start acting now.
I was also happily surprised when a student asked me where he could sign up to protest.