Public hearings are occurring for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the northern British Columbia port of Kitimat. There the crude would be loaded onto oil tankers plying the B.C. coastal waterway and sent to China.
There are billions of dollars at stake and the Prime Minister, it appears, will not tolerate anything but a swift and affirmative decision for the project. Various government ministers have, in effect, labelled those who raise concerns as “radical environmentalists” and enemies of the state who are financed from abroad. The government signalled in its recent budget that it will have the Canada Revenue Agency crack down on charitable organizations considered to be too political. It is no secret that they are taking aim at environmental groups.
David Suzuki has chosen to step down from the board of the foundation that he created so that he can continue speak his mind – and he hopes that the Suzuki Foundation will not become a target of the government. The government has also promised that it will shorten the time that it takes to hold an environmental hearing. This kind of activity by governments is common in most petro states. The amount of money at stake is astronomical and that usually trumps democratic process or environmental concern.
Jim Manly speaks out
Someone not afraid to speak out is Jim Manly, a retired United Church minister and a former NDP Member of Parliament from British Columbia. He presented to the Northern Gateway hearings in Comox, B.C. in late March. Here is a slightly edited version of his submissions.
A difficult choice
I’m a retired United Church minister and a former Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-the Islands from 1980-88; during my time as an MP I served on the Indian Affairs and Fisheries committees. I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today and to share my opinion of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the proposed tanker traffic that goes with it. To begin with, I want to recognize that you have a difficult task — to try to find the appropriate balance between economic and ecological concerns.
It is interesting that the words ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’ are both rooted in the Greek word ‘oikos’ for house or household. Both economy and ecology have to do with the management of our global household. I think we can all agree that a sound economy must always be based upon a sound ecology.
Oppose tanker traffic
A number of people have presented serious arguments against the way the pipeline threatens our river systems and wildlife on the overland route through British Columbia’s northern interior. I want to focus on the danger that the resulting tanker traffic presents to coastal British Columbia. Just as interior First Nations and other people oppose the overland section, so Coastal First Nations and others strongly oppose this tanker traffic.
Not if, but when
When we were first married in 1959, Eva and I spent four years in Kitamaat Village among the Haisla people, the people most threatened by tanker traffic. Living at the end of Douglas Channel, the Haisla worry that it is not a question of if there will be an oil spill, but when and how large. Although like other communities they would welcome the jobs that the pipeline and tanker traffic might bring, they know that the price is too high. As other presentations have shown, an oil spill would have major, long term and disastrous consequences.
Legal and moral challenges
Three weeks ago an article in the Vancouver Sun (March 10, 2012, B1) reported that in November 2010, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency warned federal cabinet ministers that lack of adequate funding meant that First Nations would not have the resources to adequately review the relevant information; this meant that there would not be the “meaningful and reasonable participation” that our Constitution requires and the entire process could be tied up in court for many years.
I submit that this is far more than a legal challenge to the pipeline proponents; it is a basic moral and ethical challenge to the people and government of Canada. Are we a people who only recognize the rights of First Nations people when it suits us? Or do we recognize that these are not rights that were created and granted by our government but that they are pre-existent rights which our Constitution recognized but did not create.
Two weeks ago I attended the Truth and Reconciliation hearing at Port Alberni: A Gitksan former student concluded his testimony about the abuse he experienced at residential school by saying, “Enbridge is just like a residential school supervisor.”
This is how many First Nations people see the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal — although it makes fine promises of jobs and of protecting the environment, it is in the final analysis, destructive.
Environmentalists and others who oppose the pipeline and tanker traffic have been criticized for receiving funds from the United States — implying that opposition to the pipeline is not truly Canadian but merely a branch from American roots. I’d like to make two comments on this.
Coastline is our lifeblood
First of all the people of coastal British Columbia know that this coastline is an irreplaceable resource — in terms of its beauty, its wealth of sea food, as a site for homes and communities, and its present and future value for tourism.
But this coastline is not simply a resource — something that can be balanced and traded off with other resources. This coastline is our life-blood; without it we wouldn’t be the people we are. Above all First Nations people know this and that is why they are sworn to protect it — whatever political decisions may be made.
A few months ago I saw a video about the proposed pipeline where a woman from the white community of Kitimat said she favoured the pipeline but, that if it didn’t work out, she and her family would simply move on to someplace else. The people of Kitamaat Village, of Hartley Bay, Kitkatla, Metlakatla, Port Simpson, Haida Gwaii, Klemtu, Bella Bella and other First Nations communities know that there is no place else to go. This coast is where their lives are to be lived.
Other people on the coast know the same thing — perhaps not to the same degree. For at least four decades, going back to the West Coast Oil Ports Inquiry under Andrew Thompson, people on the coast have been strongly opposed to super-tankers operating on this coast — just as they have opposed any proposals to drill for off shore oil.
The second point I want to make with respect to American funding for environmental causes is that it should be most welcome. We live in a global society. Globalization is a fact in terms of our economy — no more so than in the oil industry — that’s what this pipeline is all about. But even more basic than a global economy is the global ecology. We do not live in small air-tight, water-tight compartments separated from each other.
Ten days ago I heard a woman from Metlakatla saying she and her mother would not be gathering any sea-food, harvesting any herring-roe, or canning any salmon this year. Why? because of the danger of contamination from Japan’s nuclear disaster last year. As the old saying has it, “We are all wrapped up on a single ball of twine.”
A verse from scripture
I want to close with a verse of Scripture, from Psalm 24:1. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” The truth in this goes beyond any particular religious creed: in secular terms it tells us that on Planet Earth we have obligations that go far beyond our particular interests; we need to consider the integrity of the environment and the rights of future generations to have a decent place to live.
I hope that your panel will see the centrality of this as you makes your decision and that our government will also recognize this and will reject the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.
Basic right and responsibility
Finally, I want to stress that it is a basic right and responsibility of Canadians to be able to voice their concerns about important environmental issues of national importance and to be heard by a panel like yours. A basic right we must not let anyone take away. Unfortunately, Thursday’s [March 29] Budget Speech was like a kick in the groin of this process. Thank you.