Enbridge: Pipelines, Politics and Resistance

Big things are happening in BC. Last month brought the surprising re-election of the BC Liberals after months of predictions that the NDP would form our next provincial government. I won’t comment much on the election or its results in this post (though I encourage you to check out another CYH post regarding partisan politics), but I will admit that I was feeling a little glum post-election day. A major issue for me in this election was pipelines in BC. During the election campaign Christy Clark drilled home the message of building a “strong economy”, which included developing BC’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry and conditional acceptance of pipeline projects. I was certain that “maybe” to pipelines really meant, “yes”. Even John Carruthers, Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway president, took the Liberal victory as a good sign and was heartened by the re-election. Things were not looking good.

You can imagine my surprise then when on May 31, only a little over two weeks since the election, the BC government officially expressed its opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline. What had changed? Some groups celebrated this news while others were skeptical. The Dogwood Initiative explained this sudden change of heart as “good politics”, plain and simple. Saying yes to Enbridge would only invite civil disobedience at a time when the government needs support from First Nations and northern communities to push through LNG. So while concerns about Northern Gateway’s environmental impact may have played a part in the decision, there are certainly other factors at work too. Not to mention those few key words in the Liberal’s announcement – namely that it opposes the project “at this time”. Ultimately though the decision lies with the federal government, which can override the decision of the Joint Review Panel, should they reject it.

Maybe it’s naïve, but I choose to look at the provincial governments opposition to Enbridge as a small victory, rather than just good politics. Derrick O’Keefe of rabble.ca points out just how much has changed in politics over the last two years around this issue. Let’s go back to 2012, where Christy Clark hired a former Enbridge lobbyist as her chief of staff. This was also around the same time that natural resources minister Joe Oliver penned an open letter that claimed “environmental and other radical groups…threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda”. Despite the hostility towards environmentalism, people continued to push back against pipelines and opposition became stronger as 2012 wore on. First Nations have been leading the resistance against Northern Gateway for a number of years, and were joined by other grassroots movements. We saw thousands show up to protest at ‘Defend Our Coast’ and other actions have sprung up around the province. Public pressure may have ultimately forced Clark to lay out the five requirements that Enbridge needs to fulfill before gaining provincial approval, and may also have played a role persuading the provincial government to publicly oppose the project.

So what does this all mean? First take a moment to celebrate these little victories, and then keep on voicing your opposition. Keep talking to friends and family about this issue. By building strong alliances and making our opinions known, we can change the political conversation around Northern Gateway. If Christy Clark felt enough public pressure to oppose the pipeline, then maybe there is hope to have this project stopped. And that, in my opinion, is a pretty great thing.

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