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Dogwood's tanker campaign 'looking forward' to 2015 election

British Columbia's provincial election is less than a week away. But the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative is already preparing for the next federal election, two and half years from now.

"We're taking the long view," Will Horter, the group's executive director told The Tyee in an interview. "We're intentionally looking forward to 2015 and beyond."

The Dogwood Initiative has helped make oil pipelines and tanker traffic a central feature of B.C.'s upcoming election. Indirectly: by persistently raising public awareness of the issue over the past few years.

And directly: by distributing leaflets in 42 ridings, drawing voter attention to the two political parties -- NDP and Greens -- that unconditionally oppose pipeline proposals from Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

There's another aspect of Dogwood's election initiative that's received considerably less media attention, but could ultimately have long-term political consequences.

For the first time ever, the group has created an "Obama-like computer system", Horter said, that allows individual volunteers all over the province to run localized anti-tanker campaigns.

It's like an activist franchise system. Self-motivated volunteers build on-the-ground movements supporting Dogwood's environmental goals.

Where momentum is particularly strong -- such as in Green Party candidate Andrew Weaver's Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding -- the environmental group sends in support staff and other resources.

The goal, said Horter, is to create "a citizen's base that can hold people accountable to their election commitments" -- most importantly, in the current election, their opposition to tankers.

"We want to allow these local machines to be developed so they can speak for themselves, and have political muscle," he said.

By the time Canadians vote for their next federal government, the Dogwood Initiative hopes to have empowered citizen's groups across the province to exert political influence on tankers, coal ports, climate change and other key environmental issues.

Think of next week's election, then, as a test of sorts for the "new type of politics" that Dogwood is helping enable, Horter said.

"We're building a network around a set of values, and giving people the tools to act around those values," he said. "Our goal is that by 2015 all this is fully operational."

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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