The push to have Canadian oil meet Asian market demand has grown massively since Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. conceived of the Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast more than a decade ago.
But as the company's CEO told reporters yesterday, so has the "passion and emotion around this project" -- and last night those feelings were on full display as opponents voiced their rage at the pipeline's federal approval, clogging up rush hour traffic in Vancouver in the most tense anti-pipeline demonstration yet.
"It's prompted debate, very tough questions of our company, and legitimate concerns," Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said in a teleconference Tuesday. "The scrutiny on our industry is sometimes difficult, but it's broadened the discussion around energy issues."
Monaco vowed to work harder not only to meet B.C.'s "five conditions" for gaining provincial support, and the National Energy Board's 209 requirements, but also to "re-engage" with First Nations along the proposed nearly 1,200-kilometre route.
As roughly 400 protesters gathered outside CBC's downtown studios last night, few expressed surprise that Harper's cabinet approved the pipeline. But neither was the feeling one of disappointment. One of the company's most vociferous opponents was interrupted by long and loud cheers from the crowd when he spoke about the coming months.
"The Harper government has made it official," proclaimed Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. "The war is on."
"The Harper Government, in its usual thuggish manner and its usual cowardly fashion, has declared war on everything British Columbians and First Nations hold near and dear to our hearts... (and) has simply dismissed all of our collective interests in lieu of corporate greed, profiteering, and continues to suck up and kiss up to Big Oil."
For Haida elder Lois Rullin, 73, the first post-approval protest may have been led by First Nations, but the opposition's aims are "for all of us," she said as she carried a long "We Love This Coast" banner at the front of the crowd as it surged through traffic on Georgia Street.
'We do respect the right of Canadians'
Environmental groups wove through the rally collecting signatures on a petition calling for a province-wide, non-binding referendum on the pipeline, similar to the one that saw Kitimat, the job-rich pipeline terminus, overwhelmingly reject the Northern Gateway only months ago.
Several protesters said that Harper's nod to the project has boosted their efforts to gather signatures, with thousands signing up in recent days.
Reporters put the referendum campaign underway to Northern Gateway leader Janet Holder.
"We do respect the right of Canadians, and obviously those of British Columbians," she said in the Tuesday teleconference. "If it is a decision by the citizens of B.C. that we should have a referendum, then we would follow that process… We do believe and understand that people have their rights, and we would respect that."
Some protesters scorned the idea, arguing a referendum would drain energy and money from the movement that has been building for years to halt the pipeline. Some said they were prepared to be arrested for acts of civil disobedience, and that scarce funds would be better put towards waging court battles and a broad protest campaign, rather than gambled on a difficult plebiscite initiative that would require significant support across the province.
'Some of us here are going to jail'
According to a June 3 Nanos poll, commissioned by Bloomberg, the province is split three ways. Less than one-in-three British Columbians want the project approved, while 34 per cent want it blocked and slightly less sought delays pending further review.
The dominant concern among non-supporters was oil spill risks, according to the poll. The poll also asked questions about the next federal election, with nearly half (47 per cent) saying approval would make them less likely to vote Conservative in 2015. Of that half of respondents, 19 per cent said they voted for Harper in 2011.
Grand Chief Phillip didn't comment on the referendum idea, but said he has been arrested before for "fighting the good fight," and is ready to do it again.
"There will be legal dimensions, there will be political dimensions, but for those veteran activists we know there will be the need to go out onto the land and onto the water," he told the crowd. "Some of us here are going to jail, because that's what it's going to take."
Meeting the provincial and federal conditions for approval is now the company's priority, Holder said, and the firm estimated that would take between 12 and 15 months, she said.
According to Enbridge, the $7-billion project would pump 200-million barrels of diluted bitumen a year from Alberta to B.C.'s coast, to be exported to Asia in oil tankers.
The firm claims its 1,177-kilometre proposal would create 3,000 short-term construction jobs, and more than 500 "long-term" jobs in B.C.
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