Enbridge’s proposal to build the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to Canada’s west coast, if built, will send oil tankers through the waters of the spirit bear’s last intact habitat.
This part of the coast is not only globally important and ecologically sensitive, but is also one of the most treacherous marine channels in North America. And though Enbridge vows to ensure that tanker traffic is done as safely as possible, even they admit they can’t rule out the possibility of an oil spill in an area that has seen two large vessels sink in the last ten years.
With public hearings on the fate of Northern Gateway underway, the debate of whether to build or not to build pipeline has become heated and divisive.
‘FOREIGN’ MONEY A RED HERRING IN DEBATE
In BC, almost every First Nation band is against the pipeline, along with environmental organizations and, depending on which poll you read, the majority of British Columbians. Even BC’s pro-development premier is sitting on the fence about the issue, as is the community of Kitimat, which is where the oil will be loaded onto tankers for shipment to China.
The Canadian government has come out strongly in favour of the pipeline and gone as far as labeling opponents as radicals and puppets of American funders who threaten Canadian sovereignty.
As Jeffery Simpson, Terry Glavin and many others have pointed out, while some environmental groups engaged in this debate are US based or US funded, that doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to an opinion on a global issue in a globalized world.
And it is a bit hypocritical of the Canadian government to get upset about foreign funded of lobby groups, when the pipeline itself is heavily financed by foreign capital, not to mention the fact the Canadian government, rightly, is seeking to open the country to more foreign investment.
It’s also a bizarre point of debate given the fact the Canadian government lobbied American citizens to support the building of the Keystone pipeline from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast: doing in America what the federal government essentially doesn’t agree should happen in Canada…unless it fits their vision.
SPIRIT BEAR YOUTH COALITION SMEARED, WRONGLY
Yet this debate is one of the many sideshows that have surfaced. Without question, the oddest issue raised in the media involved the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.
In an article printed in the Calgary Herald and reprinted in the Vancouver Sun, a reporter called two individuals registered to speak at the public hearings on Northern Gateway. The article suggests they were signed up without their permission and that they were both members of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.
For starters, the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition has never and would never sign up anyone for anything. We challenge our network to take a stand based on their values and while we hope they share our opinion, we understand that they might not. But we always encourage debate and we always strive to be clear in our requests and always leave it open to our supporters to take action if they choose.
Secondly, signing people up to speak at a hearing when they don’t intend to do so flies in the face of what the Youth Coalition wants to see achieved: strong, healthy debate on a critical policy issue that affects the spirit bear. It has been suggested that the simple act of having people registered will slow the decision making process and kill the pipeline. And there is merit to this argument if the Youth Coalition wanted to see the pipeline project killed. We don’t. We support the pipeline, just not the route.
The reporter – through no fault of her own – didn’t communicate her questions in their native tongue (Portuguese) and between a combination of misunderstanding the question and considerable time passing since these two young leaders signed up to speak at the hearing gave the impression they didn’t know about the issue. But the story was rushed to print and was reprinted without any follow-up to check the facts that were used to insinuate a complete falsehood.
BALANCE NEEDED IN PIPELINE DEBATE
There was no conspiracy: it was likely a case of students who didn’t understand the context of the question in a foreign language and couldn’t recall everything they did six months prior when asked out of the blue and late at night.
And such is the state of the Northern Gateway debate today.
Rumormongering, veiled threats, and conspiracy theories from all sides have poisoned and turned off a citizenry who should be encouraged to participate in this conversation. After all, it will only be through a truly meaningful dialogue that varied opinions will be heard and afford the process the opportunity to see what should be the balanced solution: a shifted pipeline route away from spirit bear waters, but one that still allows for oil exports.
As the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition has long stated, we’re not using this issue as a proxy-fight to shut down the oil sands in Alberta. Nor is the Youth Coalition anti-Canadian, anti-development, anti-economy, anti-oil exports or pro-socialism (all accusations that have been made).
The Youth Coalition is a volunteer-run, non-profit that doesn’t have any large backers – including foreign interests of any kind – and operates on solution-orientated, balanced positions.
OUR POSITION, FOR THE RECORD
In this case moving the pipeline so that it ends in Vancouver, preferably, or Prince Rupert would protect the spirit bear from the threat of oil spills and provide safe passage for oil tankers to Asia. Moreover, this route would be constructed without the need to build a pipeline in an area that doesn’t have one (both routes to Vancouver and Prince Rupert currently have pipelines in the ground).
We might not love the volume of oil we consume and the impact it has on our world, but for the time being, oil consumption won’t end. And to shut down a pillar of Canada’s economy without a ready-made alternative is simply not happening.
By the same extension, building a pipeline to a port that would send tankers through treacherous and ecologically important waters makes even less sense. Yes it will cost more money to shift the route at this stage of the process, but looking at what happened in the US with the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline (rather than spend more money on a slightly safer, longer route, TransCanada opted to build a short cut across an aquifer that ultimately caused the project to be indefinitely delayed by the American government), one would think Canada’s policy makers would learn from recent history.
Shifting the route of Northern Gateway would almost certainly deflate the political opposition to the project and enhance its chances of success – and economic certainty for a multi-billion dollar project is almost always worth the few extra million for a more logical route.
We believe that everyone, everywhere who has an opinion should be heard and we believe that through listening to one another, a fair balance will come forward and allow for everyone to win: the Canadian economy and the spirit bear, most especially.