It was springtime and the blossoms were out in North Burnaby. I remember knocking on doors and gathering with neighbours to push our MLA to take a stand against a Texas company that wanted to sail oil tankers loaded with toxic heavy crude right past our homes.

That was 2013, before I worked at Dogwood. 11 years and $34 billion later, the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline is starting operations this week. It’s a frustrating, heartbreaking moment for all of us who fought so hard for so long. We should have won. In some ways, we did.

For years our people-powered movement prevented oil spills in the Salish Sea and kept emissions in the ground during a critical window for the climate. We built skills, alliances, community – and we learned lessons that carry forward into other fights.

A 2018 march to the Kinder Morgan tank farm on Burnaby Mountain. Image credit: Darryl Dyck / CP

Six years ago Kinder Morgan gave up on the project, facing formidable opposition led by the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Coldwater Nations, Secwépemc, Nlaka’pamux, Coast Salish and W̱SÁNEĆ organizers, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, municipal leaders and finally the B.C. government.

Then in August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the pipeline approval. It was clear then, as it is now, that Trans Mountain poses an unacceptable risk to human health, clean water and the climate. Many people thought TMX was well and truly dead.

Indigenous leaders celebrate the Federal Court of Appeal decision canceling the pipeline approval

But Justin Trudeau, and the RCMP’s ruthless new C-IRG unit, proved us wrong. By pouring unlimited public money into construction – and arresting anybody who peacefully resisted, with harsher and harsher jail sentences targeted at Indigenous leaders – they ground the movement down.

34 billion dollars. Trudeau could have fixed the water on every First Nations reserve and still had more than 30 billion for hospitals and housing, trains and buses, wind turbines and solar panels. Instead, the Liberal government gave our money to oil companies as the country burned.

Dan Wallace of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation is tackled by RCMP officers near the Trans Mountain route

The pipeline made a few contractors rich – but TMX won’t bring down gas prices and it won’t bring back jobs in the oil sands, where automation means fewer workers are pumping out record amounts of crude. It may not even run full, as California and China start to lose interest in diluted bitumen.

That’s some relief for the orcas, salmon and other species reliant on the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. But the shift in oil markets makes it even more painfully obvious what a waste of public money this was – in a decade when we should have been leading the transition.

An orca navigates a shipping channel in the Salish Sea. Image credit: Vancouver Island Whale Watch

We’re not going to let it happen again. And Trans Mountain stands as a cautionary tale to every politician in Canada. Hopefully all parties see the political risk in giving billions to big corporations while people struggle to afford groceries.

There is still advocacy to be done to hold Trans Mountain to its permit conditions, to push for an actual public health plan to deal with a bitumen spill, and to warn First Nations and other potential buyers about the risks and liabilities that come with this pipeline and tanker project.

But this week marks a bitter milestone – and the oil CEOs, of course, are celebrating. It took 12 years and 34 billion dollars, but they got an oil pipeline built in a climate emergency. That’s how much power they have. It’s important to remember that.

What are some of your memories from the Trans Mountain fight? What questions are you left with, as the pipeline starts to fill with oil? Tag us on social media (@dogwoodbc) – or reply in the comments.

Thanks for all your hard work over the years. Thanks for never giving up. And thanks for your ongoing support, as we apply the tough lessons of the TMX campaign to our work going forward.