When I founded Northwest Coast Energy News last May, I said at that time that I would follow the general policy of many councils, groups and organizations in northwestern British Columbia of a strictly neutral stance on the issue of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.
It has become apparent in the past few weeks that a strictly neutral stance is no longer possible. It is probably clear from anyone reading this site that, based in Kitimat, this site has a northwestern British Columbia perspective. So that is now the official policy of this site.
It seems that all the arguments from most of the media and now even an Ottawa think tank have decided that Alberta’s interest in bitumen pipeline development is equivalent to the national interest. It is not a breach of neutrality to ask whether the interests of one province are more important than those of another.
From the first two weeks of testimony in the Joint Review Hearings it is clear that a large majority of people in this part of the province believe that Ottawa and Alberta will completely override the interests and fears of the people of northwestern BC. Thus there is a need for a site that covers the interests of this region.
There are many people in the northwest who have voiced various degrees of support for the Northern Gateway Pipeline. However, speak to them, as I have, and they all say something like “provided Enbridge fulfills its promises for safety of the pipelines and the tankers.” Here the site’s neutrality will be maintained but in respect for all sides, it will continue to question the motives and promises from the oil-patch.
Are the promises from Enbridge valid and, if the pipeline is actually built, will future management of Enbridge keep those promises? (Given corporate history in the energy field and elsewhere of management ignoring the promises of their predecessors, this is perhaps the biggest question of all.)
There is a constant refrain from the conservative media and the government that “foreigners” have hijacked the hearings.
It’s easy for those who live thousands of kilometres from here, have never been here, who have never bothered study this part of the country or speak to the people, both First Nations and non-First Nations, to demonize northwestern BC. That might be good wedge issue politics, but they forgot that the pipeline has to be built across this land. In the long run, if it is to be built, that would require not just cooperation, but enthusiastic cooperation from everyone. So far, if the Joint Review hearings are any indication, there isn’t even lukewarm cooperation in the offing, rather fierce opposition.
The hearings in Smithers and Burns Lake last week both went into overtime. First Nations leaders at the Burns Lake hearings angrily complained that elders who had come through (and were delayed by) a snow storm were not permitted to speak. The JRP assured them that they would make special arrangements for the elders to speak when the panel returns in the future for the ten minute comments. So much for hijacking the hearings.
Speaking of snow, it’s been snowing non-stop in the northwest for the past four days. It’s still snowing. As witnesses at the Kitamaat Village hearing pointed out, it’s not easy to find a leak in a pipeline under three or more metres of snow. For the past few days, DriveBC has been issuing warnings for the highways in the region, highways that are well-maintained and cleared. The logging roads and access roads, which would be needed to get to a pipeline just for maintenance, much for less for stopping a breach, of course, are covered in the three metres or more of snow that has fallen in the past four days (on top of all the snow that has fallen since November)
For the past several days, (in fact for most of January) marine radio has been sending “hurricane force wind” warnings for the coast, especially in Hecate Strait.
Speaking of hurricane force winds, last week the Costa Concordia, a $450 million cruise ship with all the latest navigation equipment, the same kind promised by Enbridge that the tankers will carry, went off course, hit a rock off a small island and capsized in calm weather under the command of what was likely a rogue captain.
All of this ignored in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. The vast majority of people who are intervenors and who have signed up for the 10 minute comments live in the path of the pipeline, yet the commentariat concentrate, conveniently on “green radicals” and “foreigners.” Again good wedge politics, but bad long term policy.
There have been suggestions that by the Macdonald-Laurier think tank in the person of Brian Lee Crowley that the beliefs and values can be solved with the political process.
Even if we ignore that fact that the government of Stephen Harper has, in many cases, open disdain for those who are not conservative, we have to question how much political influence northern BC has, no matter what the government.
The one riding most affected by all this is Skeena-Bulkley Valley, one of the largest ridings by land area, and smallest by population, in Canada. Even those who support the Northern Gateway pipeline, in one way or another, have little faith in Ottawa. Take such ongoing issues such as the export of raw logs or the way much of the recreational halibut season this year was wiped out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which appears to favour corporate commercial fishers over small recreational operations. The Harper government wants hundreds of super tankers sailing up and down the west coast and coming up Douglas Channel, and yet the same government is cutting Coast Guard and DFO resources to the bone. (The official Canadian Coast Guard response time for an incident in Douglas Channel now is eight hours. That is likely to increase with the cutbacks. The Italian Coast Guard responded to the Costa Concordia sinking in minutes.)
Even when the northwest asks the Harper government to support energy development (in this case LNG) by stationing Canada Border Services at Terrace Kitimat airport so foreign executives won’t have to land at Abbotsford first, costing them time and jet fuel, the government in the person of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews gives the northwest a not so polite brush off.
One piece of advice to Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. If you really want that pipeline, you’d better stop demonizing the people most affected (some of whom support the pipeline but are tarred with the same brush). That “vociferous minority” is actually a majority here.
The late American congressman Tip O’Neill is often quoted when he said “all politics is local.”
Since Ottawa, at this point, wants Alberta local politics to trump northwestern BC local politics on the pipeline issue, that means we are living in very interesting times.
That is why this site will continue to cover the issues involved as completely as time allows, from the perspective of northwestern British Columbia.