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'This Is What Healthy Democracy Looks Like'

NDP MLA Fleming's message to Premier Clark joins chorus of protest against Northern Gateway at BC legislature.

By Andrew MacLeod 23 Oct 2012 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Art Sterritt, the executive director of the Coastal First Nations, addressed the crowd gathered in front of the British Columbia Legislature: "Seven years ago when we began our battle with Enbridge we were standing alone."

Since then First Nations along the proposed northern gateway pipeline have joined the stuggle, as has the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which in his words has repeatedly told Enbridge to "get lost," many provincial politicians and much of the public.

And so on a cool, rainy Monday afternoon, a few thousand people gathered on the legislature lawn and steps to listen to speakers and to engage in calculated civil disobedience described by one host as carrying a "slight" risk of arrest.

With Enbridge appearing intent on building the peipeline from Alberta's tar sands to the B.C. coast, Sterritt asked, "What are you willing to do to stop them? Are you willing to lie down in front of the bulldozers?"

And while it didn't come to that Monday in Victoria -- there were no arrests when protesters drove hundreds of stakes into the lawn to hold a black banner the length of an oil tanker -- it's clear that if the federal regulator approves the project and construction begins, many will be willing to block those bulldozers.

'People speak louder'

A giant puppet of a red salmon provided a backdrop for first nations demonstrators standing on the legislature steps. A person in a raven costume circulated through the crowd spreading a message against coal mining.

Placards in the crowd included: "Bears Need Wild Salmon"; "This Pipe Dream is a Nightmare"; "Moms for our Coast"; "Wake Up Canada, This is Your Coast Too"; "People Speak Louder than Money"; "Fuck your pipeline" and "We Should Live with Love Not with Oil."

Part way through the demonstration, signs saying things like "Our coast is not for sale" were edited in black marker to replace the possessive "our" with "the".

There was also the occasional non sequitur, like "Keep Coal in the Ground" and "Protect the North. Stop Site C Dam."

Speakers hit similar themes, calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Christy Clark to stop the project. Most were upbeat.

"We're winning," the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation's Rueben George told the crowd. The opposition to the pipeline needs to come from a place of spirit that values the sacredness of the lands and water, he said. "There's no price we can put down on these things, our earth, our lands, our water," he said.

The people pushing the pipeline are blinded by greed, he said. "We're going to do it for their children too."

Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief Terry Teegee observed, "We made an informed decision we don't want this project six months ago, so why does Enbridge keep coming back? It just baffles me."

A representative of the Lubicon Cree from northern Alberta told how oil spills have changed not just the land but the way of life of her people. "Until my generation my family lived sustainably off the land," she said. Choking back tears, she said, "The land and people will never be the same."

582px version of Enbridge protest
First Nations hoisting a giant salmon helped propel Monday's protest at the BC Legislature. Photo: A. MacLeod.

Investment agreement with China

Politicians in attendance included former federal Liberal environment minister David Anderson, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, at least a dozen NDP MLAs and BC Green Party Leader Jane Sterk accompanied by star candidate Andrew Weaver.

"You have 100 per cent of the Green Party caucus in Parliament here for the rally," federal Green Party Leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May told the crowd.

She said her party is the only one against fracking, the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Burnaby and large oil tanker traffic. She connected the projects to the proposed agreement on investment with China, saying it will make it hard to stop projects like the pipeline without getting sued by state-owned Chinese companies.

"This is what's on the line. Christy Clark, get yourself a lawyer," she said.

BC NDP environment critic Rob Fleming noted that the legislature isn't sitting and that Clark has complained of the "sick culture" in Victoria. "Take a look around," he said. "This is what a healthy democracy looks like."

He criticized the B.C. government for absenting itself from the Enbridge file for two years and for giving up the right to hold its own review of the project, allowing the federal government to take the lead.

"Don't let the last word be Stephen Harper's, because we know where he stands," he said. "We need to hear where you stand, Christy Clark."

Clark also needs to tell Kinder Morgan it won't have the same kind of free ride that Enbridge has had, he said.

Raising the black banner

Tzeporah Berman, an organizer of the Clayoquot blockades in the early 1990s who moved into working with corporations to make change with Forest Ethics and Greenpeace, said her message to Clark is that sometimes it's important to negotiate to mitigate a bad project.

"This is not one of those times," she said.

She said she was happy the NDP are opposing the pipeline, but added, "I'd have been even happier if they'd come out stronger against the Kinder Morgan pipeline."

Communications, Energy and Paperworkers president Dave Coles said the union opposes the pipeline because they are job killers, bad for the environment, bad for the economy and trample First Nations' rights. He compared exporting unrefined bitumen to exporting raw logs, both of which bleed jobs to other places.

Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers' Federation, said, "We're here because we recognize our responsibility as parents and teachers to our kids." Citing Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the Occupy movement, she said, "Peaceful civil disobedience has won many struggles."

During the organizing of the protest, there was disagreement on what form civil disobedience should take. The desire of some to "do something" was up against those who believed that at a time when public opinion and many of the politicians are already against the project, the timing was wrong for any kind of civil disobedience at all.

In the end, protesters erected a black banner the length of an oil tanker. It was supported on wooden stakes, which they hammered into the lawn. The action did contravene the Legislative Precinct Regulation, but was met with ambivalence from police on the scene.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Politics, Environment

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