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Here Comes the Bribe

As opposition mounts to Northern Gateway, backers will promise big bucks for BC.

Rafe Mair 20 Feb

Rafe Mair writes a column for The Tyee every second Monday. Read his previous columns here. He is also a founding contributor to The Common Sense Canadian.

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What price do we put on our natural heritage?

Alberta Premier Alison Redford stated in a recent speech that her government is looking to "clear a path for the oil sands through British Columbia by upping the economic benefits for its western neighbour -- including the option of paying to modernize and expand West Coast ports."

Premiers don't just throw that sort of stuff around and I believe that this speech foretells an ever increasing policy of the federal government and Alberta to bribe First Nations and the rest of B.C. citizens alike.

Here is why we must not take the bribe.

Ruptures of the pipelines. Carrying condensate mixed with the bitumen (gunk) from the tar sands, the pipeline is bound to rupture at some point. This is not a risk but an absolute certainty. Enbridge has admitted there will be ruptures. Enbridge's pipelines have recorded 811 ruptures since 1998.

Myth of a clean-up. Those ruptures will happen in areas where only helicopters can land, so machinery for clean-up is out of the question. Even in accessible areas, there cannot be any real clean-up, as the Kalamazoo spill in July 2010 eloquently demonstrates.

Tanker leaks. These, too, are a certainty, While double-hulling helps, in the past two years there have been four major spills with double-hulled ships. We know from the Exxon Valdez what a spill means.

Opposition continues to build

Two weeks ago, I gave the keynote speech at a gathering against Enbridge's proposal in Prince Rupert. I heard affected members of First Nations firmly re-state their opposition to the pipeline and the tanker traffic. Particularly emphatic statements came from natives on the coast. If there is no approval from coastal nations the prospects must be dim for the pipeline.

Opposition is fast increasing, as well, among the non-native community. This is not going to lessen as time passes.

In a way this reminds me of the Meech Lake/Charlottetown accords of more than two decades ago, which took so long to craft, present and debate -- from 1986 to 1992 -- that people actually found out what it was all about. An informed public is anathema to governments. Proof is that the Charlottetown referendum went down in a crashing defeat, especially in B.C. where almost 70 per cent opposed. Day after day, as the public gets more and more information, its resolve against the pipelines and tankers grows and firms up.

Which raises the key question. Will that opposition grow so strong that no bribe of any amount from Alberta or the federal government can reverse it?

My educated guess is that Premier Redford's sweet talk was known to if not approved by Stephen Harper as the first step in softening up this province. It's significant to note that the head of Enbridge was part of the recent Harper visit to China.

Harper has, in my view, made a serious mistake of plumping for Gateway without knowing, nor I suspect caring, what the people think. This casual approach to our province will, I predict, harden B.C. opinion against the project.

Will First Nations hold firm as the offers of money roll in?

The short answer is that no one knows. I believe that the majority will, especially those on the coast. If this project, to start in 2013, is opposed by the people of B.C., both First Nations and the rest of us, a very serious roadblock will develop which will in my view lead to a confrontation like nothing we've ever seen in this province.

No middle ground

The problem is that there is no compromise position available. It's either a full steam ahead or no damned way.

The face of the environmentalist has changed. What I call the three-piece suit and pearl necklace crowd are getting more and more active. Rallies against overhead wires and intrusion into sensitive areas like Burns Bog showed these new faces. When I was given a "roast" last in the WISE Hall in East Vancouver last November, I saw people who a year or two before would rather have been caught in a house of ill-fame.

The issue is not money, or at least it ought not to be. The issue does not pit left against right. Rather, the issue starkly defines right versus wrong.

It's not often I'm at a loss for words, but recently one of my co-panelists on the CBC radio program Early Edition stated that we must approve the Enbridge pipeline linking Alberta's tar sands to Kitimat in the "interests" of Canada. In other words, we must sacrifice our pristine wilderness in the "national interest." I was reduced to spluttering babble!

How can we make the Great Bear Forest hostage to money in the short term and catastrophe in the future?

How can we condemn the most beautiful -- and dangerous -- coastline in the world to spills of oil in its most toxic form, bitumen, because we were offered large amounts of money?

Have we as a people lost our moral compass? Are we prepared to condemn our heritage to death over large chunks of lucre? Do we not care about losing the soul of our beautiful but prefer obeisance to Mammon?

Will we be, in Wilde's words, a people who know the "cost of everything and the value of nothing?"

British Columbians will find out what they're made of as the offers of money in exchange for our natural heritage come piling in.

[Tags: Energy, Environment.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Environment

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