The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Robin Rowland Headshot

Enbridge's Northern Gateway Becoming The National Nightmare

Posted: Updated:

This is part three of a three-part series titled "Pipelines, Politics and Pundits: The view from Northwest B.C."

For the past couple of years, Enbridge and its supporters have been promoting the Northern Gateway Pipeline project as a new "National Dream" bringing Canada together. The Canadian Pacific Railway did tie Canada together because the rail line brought advantages by promoting trade and travel for every part of the country.

Can the same thing be said for a bitumen pipeline?

The Northern Gateway is now becoming the National Nightmare. Canada has a new Two Solitudes in the 21st century. The dividing line is not the Ottawa River but the Rockies.

It appears that in Alberta -- not just columnists but bloggers and tweeters as well -- seem to believe that if they just yell loud enough, that the people of B.C. will eventually realize their thought errors and join in supporting Alberta's manifest destiny.

In the beginning, in long stories about the Northern Gateway, the media east of the Rockies was generally full of praise for the project, dismissing B.C.'s concerns in a single, journalist-obligatory paragraph that often read something like: "Some First Nations and environmentalists oppose the project."

After B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced her conditions for accepting the pipeline, the campaign against British Columbia escalated into to full-scale, Republican-style demonization.

By far the worst rant, so far, was a downright nasty column in the voice of the oilpatch, Calgary Herald, titled "Redford deserves sympathy for having to deal with B.C", written by Barry Cooper of the University of Calgary.

The reason Clark's attempt at blackmail might work is that she (and Dix and Cummins) is very much in tune with the change in how large numbers of British Columbians see themselves. The province is no longer a productive resource centre, but a backwater playground. Vancouver is less a big Canadian city than a "world-class" vacation village with lots of multimillion-dollar condos and absentee owners. Of course, they still mine stuff and cut a few trees there, but most people see themselves as soft consumers and rent collectors, drinking lattes in the rain. Many believe in spirit bears and water sprites and require grief counselling when trees blow down in Stanley Park. They are what Nietzsche called "last men."

One note for Cooper. You don't "believe" in "Spirit Bears," but the white Kermode bear does exist in the forests of B.C. The bears are considered sacred by the aboriginal people and the Spirit Bear generates perhaps $1 million or more each year in tourist dollars, a fact Albertans continue to conveniently ignore.

That "soft consumer" jibe reminded me of the Korax the Klingon, in Star Trek's "The Trouble with Tribbles," talking about Capt. James T. Kirk calling him a "Regulan bloodworm" which Korax described as "soft and shapeless."

As well, Rex Murphy wrote the second of two sarcastic, condescending columns about B.C. in the National Post:

From this side of the great Rocky Mountains, the moves in the new "great game" -- as it has been played from the prematurely blossoming lawns of Victoria, to the ritzy enclaves opposite the prideful trees of Stanley Park -- are, to outsiders and bedazzled amateurs alike, opaque and byzantine.

In the earlier column, Murphy compared Clark to an Old West Cowboy, referring to the five conditions as "Christy Clark started wandering to the OK Corral" .

Long experience in Canadian journalism leaves me wondering. Much milder sarcasm about Newfoundland, Murphy's beloved "Rock," would have triggered outrage across that province, sparking calls to editors and ombudsmen, full-scale rants on talk radio, hundreds of comments on news web pages and likely a column from Murphy himself.

Are people in B.C. just so west-coast cool, that we're like Scotty who remarked about the Klingons: "After all, we're big enough to take a few insults, aren't we?" (Remember that James Doohan, who played Scotty, was born in Vancouver and spent some of his early years in B.C. before moving to Sarnia)

Let's go on. The national media is in full voice accusing British Columbia of "extorting" Canada (in reality those in B.C. who support the pipeline are asking for a little respect).

Premier Alison Redford accused Clark of  dividing Canadians and pitting one province against another.

Andrew Coyne called "Christy Clark's Northern Gateway demands just another extortion attempt" and Jesse Kline noted that "Christy Clark thinking she has the right to skim money off the top."

And on and on with Kelly Mcfarland also in the National Post and Tom Flangan in the Globe and Mail claiming "that environmentalists whip up hysterical opposition to all pipelines."

That's hardly a way to win friends and influence people. Certainly not the best way to ask, "Can we please put a big pipeline full of bitumen in your forests and backyards, and then ship the bitumen to Asia along rocky shores and over stormy seas while cutting back protection for your coastline and not paying you a cent for your trouble."

Perhaps there really are two solitudes, divided by the Rockies.

Perhaps British Columbians find that the comments are so over the top, so ridiculous, so out of whack with their reality that the columnists are irrelevant. Not because we're cool, but because the culture is profoundly different.

Eventually Scotty took a slug at Korax the Klingon when he called the Enterprise a "garbage scow." If the Northern Gateway is forced across the northwest, and if it does turn B.C. into Alberta's garbage scow, that will get the province riled up.

For Cooper, Coyne, Murphy, Kline and Flanagan, be careful what you wish for. The first photo of a white Kermode bear turned shiny black by oil will do more to stop production at the bitumen sands than a thousand street protests. A whale killed by oil will be national nightmare. The cultural divide at the Rockies will get higher and wider. By that time all your columns will then be truly irrelevant.