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Rafe Mair: Why I'm for Massive Civil Disobedience

Gateway approved, now 'British Columbians will learn the stuff they're made of.'

Rafe Mair 21 Jun

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

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Protest against Enbridge pipeline on steps of BC Legislature, October 22, 2012. Photo by Bruce Dean from Your BC: The Tyee Photo Pool.

The Conservative government's decision to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline is the greatest threat to national unity since the Quebec crisis in 1995. It is reminiscent of Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program of 1980 except in that case the program could be and was cancelled. It is, simply put, an "up yours" to our province.

What we must understand is that there will be spills and serious spills along this pipeline. This is a certainty. Enbridge's own record demonstrates this but the law of averages makes it certain.

It's worse than that. Because of the terrain over which the pipeline would go, access to the spills is all but denied. One only has to look at a map to see that there is no more hostile territory in the world for a pipeline.

It gets worse still. Enbridge's record in cleaning up spills is appalling. Perhaps the worst example goes back to just under four years ago with the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan -- a spill of diluted bitumen, like what Gateway would carry. It has yet to be cleaned up. Bitumen, unlike ordinary crude oils, is probably incapable of being cleaned up on land and certainly seems to be incapable of being cleaned up in water. This is the stuff with which we are dealing.

When it comes to tanker traffic the problem is even worse. The odds of a serious tanker spill are all but certain. When that happens it will be catastrophic for the province of British Columbia.

Let's first look at this from the perspective of First Nations. I can only assume from my experience in these matters and talking to First Nations leaders that they are dead serious in opposing this pipeline absolutely. This is not simply a case of being consulted. They emphatically say that this won't happen on their territories. Environmentally, they have too much to lose. This is an extremely serious problem for the federal government. There is no question in my mind that First Nations will use every method at their disposal to oppose this pipeline, including civil disobedience.

'Tories are ruined in BC'

Now let's look at the politics of the matter.

Perhaps the only cheery news out of this whole mess is that the Tories are ruined in British Columbia. There will now be 42 seats in Parliament from British Columbia and I frankly cannot see a single safe one for the Conservatives.

Much can change between now and next year when the election is held but it's going to have to change dramatically before the Conservative Party has a chance.

The question then is who will profit politically. Both the Liberals and the NDP say that they would void the decision if they became government.

First of all, I simply do not trust the Liberals. Justin Trudeau is capable of saying almost anything that will be make him become prime minister. He still needs the support of the non-left. I believe it will be hard for him to maintain this decision if he becomes PM. This is an easy promise to make but a very difficult one to keep. I have never trusted the Liberals to keep their promises. I suppose I don't trust any political party to do so, but the Liberals less than most. They have a huge need for seats in central Canada and those seats come from areas that traditionally support large industry where the jobs come from and where people have the money to support them.

I have no doubt that the New Democrats mean what they say. The trouble is that Thomas Mulcair is highly unlikely to ever be the prime minister of Canada. Still, from a British Columbia point of view, NDP MPs in Parliament will at least speak out for this province.

'Clark's five conditions make no sense'

Now let's look at the provincial scene.

Premier Clark's five conditions make no sense. Of course a bribe will be offered in due course -- this goes without saying. That it doesn't come from royalties due to Alberta is neither here nor there. One way or another the feds and Alberta will see that a sweetener comes our way. Is that what this is all about? The size of the bribe? Are we simply prostitutes haggling over the price?

The reason given by Ms. Clark for opposing Gateway is fraudulent -- namely, that there must be "world class" cleanup methods available. Those words are weasel words and mean absolutely nothing. As already indicated there is no way you can clean up anyway no matter what class the proposals fall into. Of course Enbridge will claim it has "world class" cleanup techniques but these words, like "mitigation," mean simply a cop out. Ms. Clark would be very wise to cancel this condition and simply say that she is opposed because any damage caused cannot be cleaned up.

Premier Clark is in a very difficult position. The election of 2017, which seems so far away, in political terms is right on the horizon. The delays that would attach to this pipeline proposal in any event will take matters forward to 2017 very quickly. Ms. Clark has staked her government's future on LNG and huge amounts of revenue pouring into B.C.'s coffers by the time of the next election. I believe that this is a snare and a delusion and that Ms. Clark is coming to realize that. This means that she cannot go into the next election with that the only thing going for her.

But matters get more difficult than that. From now until 2017 the NDP will be as one in declaring their opposition to Gateway. The public of British Columbia are, in my opinion, opposed to the pipeline and this opposition will only grow. The Liberals, already in some political trouble, simply cannot allow the NDP to have this issue all for themselves.

What about the NDP? Their job is to keep opposing but not get hysterical. It's a long time to keep on one issue and their job will be to be clear in their opposition, yet disciplined.

Referendum 'a massive task'

It is always difficult to assess public opinion based on a scattering of polls. I base my opinion simply on a gut feeling coming from having lived in this province a very long time. It takes me back to the Charlottetown accord in 1992, when from the outset I predicted that British Columbia would vote massively against it. The issues are not all that dissimilar -- although we are a nation, provinces have the right to protect their own interests. The constitution of the country clearly gives us that right and no one should be surprised if we exercise it. My sense is that the public of B.C. will, with respect to the pipeline, be against it massively as they were against the Charlottetown accord.

The Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group, is bravely trying to get a referendum going. Under B.C. law this is so difficult to achieve as to be nigh unto impossible. They must get 10 per cent of the registered voters, as of the last voters list, in every riding of B.C. -- a massive task. I certainly support them in their efforts and urge everyone else to do so. Still it is a long shot.

From Premier Clark's point of view it makes a lot of sense for her government to hold a referendum as they did with HST. It would be a courageous move because the federal government would raise hell. The public, however, even those in favour of the pipeline, would have a hard time opposing the taking of the opinion of the people. If the referendum were to substantially oppose the pipeline, as I believe it would, it would arm Premier Clark not only in her negotiations and discussions with the federal government and other parts of Canada, but it would give her a great weapon in the 2017 provincial election.

A word about the conditions imposed upon Enbridge by the Joint Review Panel. They total 209, of which 113 must be met before construction starts. Unfortunately conditions imposed upon industry are seldom paid any attention to. One only need look at these so-called run of rivers projects in British Columbia to see the truth of what I've just said. The companies in those cases have paid little if any attention to the regulations and when they are breached the government pays no attention. Big industry has huge clout right down to the law enforcement level.

In any event, long before the review panel finished its hearings the prime minister announced his government's support of Gateway. To remove all doubt of where the government stands, the yappy finance minister, Joe Oliver, voices support continually. It's pretty difficult to believe that a condition can change that. Moreover, the Tory cabinet has approved the project. How the hell do the Tories walk away from that commitment?

'With every sinew in our fibre'

As a British Columbian I am appalled that my national government would impose this catastrophe upon my province without any consultation with its citizens. The process, the Joint Review Panel, is a fraud. The only issue to be determined there is whether or not environmental changes can be made to the project. The question as to whether or not the people want the project in the first place is simply out of order.

This will be the value of a referendum. If I am wrong on this matter the public will say so and that will be the end of the matter.

I believe, and the federal government fears, that given the opportunity the public of British Columbia will massively reject this insult to their province. We have one of the most beautiful jurisdictions in the entire world. Once we get started on pipelines other similar projects will follow. We will become an industrial jurisdiction and the term "Beautiful British Columbia" will be a joke.

When one thinks of it, isn't it just a little bit puzzling? Was it all that long ago that we had all decided in Canada that we would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? Weren't we going to wean ourselves off oil and move to alternative sources of energy? Weren't we going to be a beacon for the world in changing our ways?

What has happened to us?

What's happened is the simple word: greed. The Canadian government has to deal with a lot of greed from industry that manifests itself in large political contributions without which parties could not run elections. No more complicated than that.

The Northern Gateway pipeline is a terrible idea, and in my opinion, must be opposed with every sinew in our fibre, starting now. This must include massive civil disobedience. We must fully support First Nations in their struggles.

As the days and months unfold, British Columbians will learn the stuff they're made of.  [Tyee]

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