On June 17, the federal government approved Enbridge's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline. The pipeline will see 525,000 barrels of the heavy oil transported from the Alberta tar sands to the B.C. coast each day, for transport by tanker to foreign refineries.
With its decision, the federal government is bulldozing this pipeline through the backyards of British Columbians. Time and time again, First Nations along the pipeline route have made it clear that they will not accept the Northern Gateway pipeline on their traditional territory. The District of Kitimat rejected the project in a recent referendum. And poll after poll has shown an overwhelming majority of British Columbians do not believe the project should move forward.
The federal government's failure to respect the will of British Columbians is particularly ironic. In 1980 when Trudeau introduced the National Energy Program, Albertans were outraged. They argued that it was utterly inappropriate for the federal government to interfere with their energy policy as it was deemed to be within provincial jurisdiction. Have we not learned anything from history?
First Nations along the pipeline route are among those who would be most impacted by its construction. Yet they have been largely ignored throughout much of this process. In fact, a Stephen Harper-appointed special envoy on aboriginal and energy issues recently issued a report that showed the federal government's approach to engagement with First Nations was inadequate.
In an address earlier this month to a conference for treaty negotiators, industry and government, the appointee Doug Eyford stated:
"I was struck that some of the communities that are today threatening judicial proceedings and civil disobedience were at one time requesting meetings with federal officials and making what I believe, in retrospect, were feasible proposals to address the environmental and other issues associated with the project. ... Regrettably, there was no uptake."
We owe our First Nations a debt of gratitude as they commence legal action to have their constitutional rights enforced. First Nations are using their resources -- resources that could be used towards the betterment of their communities -- to defend the interests of all British Columbians in court. This shouldn't need to be the case. It is the B.C. government that should be stepping up to defend the rights of all British Columbians. The spotlight is now on Premier Christy Clark.
The B.C. government has stated it has the power to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline through the 60 required provincial permits. Yet so far Clark and her government have sat largely on the sidelines, neglecting to make any concrete commitments one way or the other.
The B.C. government has stated that for any heavy oil pipeline to proceed, it must meet five conditions. Immediately after the Northern Gateway decision, Clark's government made it very clear that these conditions have not yet been met.
Yet even if their five conditions are eventually met, the fact is that on their own, they are not enough. The heavy oil that is to be transported on tankers along our coast is called diluted bitumen, or dilbit. A recent federal study has clearly shown that in the presence of suspended sediments, of which there are no shortage in our coastal waters, dilbit will sink when spilled in the ocean, making recovery difficult, if not impossible, and the damages potentially catastrophic.
We do not have the science or the capacity to deal with a dilbit spill. And none of Clark's five conditions address this. In fact, In its comprehensive 2013 submission to the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel the British Columbia government was very clear: "the province is not able to support approval of the project".
This is why I, together with the BC Green Party, have called for a moratorium on tankers transporting dilbit, adding this as a sixth condition on top of B.C. Liberal's existing five conditions.
With today's decision to approve the Enbridge pipeline, the deadline for meeting the five B.C. Liberal conditions has passed. It is time for Clark and her government to stand up and reflect the wishes of British Columbians by unequivocally rejecting the federal decision to proceed with the Northern Gateway project.
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