VANCOUVER - Opponents of Northern Gateway said Friday that the war against the pipeline will now be waged against the federal government, which will decide the project's fate after a federal review panel recommended approval.
A coalition of environmental groups gathered in Vancouver the day after the National Energy Board released its report and recommendations, to say that Calgary-based Enbridge may have had the support of the panel, but not the public.
Gerald Amos, chairman of the Friends of Wild Salmon Coalition of northwestern British Columbia, said the federal government made changes to regulatory rules during the review process that affected the outcome and gave cabinet the final say.
"In the bottom of my heart I'm convinced now, and I think a lot of people share this feeling, that our government and its processes no longer belong to the people. They belong to the big oil companies, who have bought and paid for the changes that have been made very recently," said Amos, a former chief of the Haisla Nation near Kitimat, B.C., where the tanker terminal for the project would be built.
There is a federal election coming in 2015, Amos said, and critics of the project will reach out in the coming months to urge people to "reclaim" their government.
Amos was flanked by representatives of Forest Ethics Advocacy, the Fort St. James Sustainability Coalition, the Living Oceans Society and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union as he reacted to the panel report.
The panel attached 209 conditions to approval, covering everything from protecting caribou habitat to research into how the molasses-like diluted bitumen to be transported in the pipeline would behave in the ocean.
The federal government has 180 days to make a decision.
John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines, said the approval is one more step for the company, which continues to try and address concerns.
"I would think that the panel's report would be a good platform to build upon and will help establish that engagement," he said after the report was released.
"We will continue to listen and continue to respond and be open to make the necessary changes."
Ben West, of Forest Ethics Advocacy, said three options remain to fight the project: legal, political, and direct action.
West said he anticipates First Nations will pursue a legal challenge and in the political arena, he, too, set sights on the federal government.
"Any politician who supports the Enbridge pipeline or similar projects is going to play a political price," he said.
"(Prime Minister Stephen) Harper has acted as more of an advocate than a regulator, and I think people are not going to take kindly to the muzzling of scientists and the undermining of democratic process."
He said he hopes it does not come to direct action but "if these pipelines are pushed through, this could make Clayoquot Sound look like a walk in the park."
The Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council, which represents eight First Nations in north-central B.C., said the review process was flawed.
"We knew this, and this is part of the reason we did not participate," Tribal Chief Terry Teegee said in a statement Friday from Prince George.
It's now up to First Nations to ensure the land and water are protected, he said.
"If Harper says yes to Enbridge, it's going to be a long, hot year in 2014," Teegee said. "We're prepared and ready for all possibilities at this point."