Vancouver – Just a day before Canada’s federal government gave Northern Gateway a conditional approval, a coalition of First Nations and civil society groups delivered a final rejection of Enbridge’s pipeline and oil tanker project.
With many First Nations gearing up for court battles to protect their territories from this risky proposal, representatives of Coastal First Nations, Dogwood Initiative, Unifor, West Coast Environmental Law, Douglas Channel Watch and One Cowichan promised to work together to defeat Northern Gateway, regardless of any approvals issued by the federal cabinet.
“Our people have lived on this coast for 10,000 years,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of Coastal First Nations. “Over that time we developed laws and protocols to keep human impacts on the landscape in balance. Those laws are still in effect. Crude oil tankers are banned in our territories under First Nations law.”
Survey results indicate the majority of British Columbians support legislation in line with the First Nations ban. Polls consistently show two-thirds of B.C. voters agree the North Coast is no place for oil tankers. A recent Bloomberg-Nanos poll found only 29 per cent support for the Northern Gateway proposal.
“This is an issue of democracy,” said Will Horter, Executive Director of Dogwood Initiative, B.C.’s largest nonpartisan organizing network. “The democratic majority of British Columbians agree with First Nations and share the same values. Our communities will work together to defeat this pipeline, be it in the courts or at the ballot box.”
“The energy industry feeds our families and supports our industries. But we don’t support exporting our raw bitumen to be refined in other countries,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president. “Northern Gateway ignores the reality of climate change, offers few long-term jobs, and doesn’t address First Nations’ concerns. Unifor is committed to working with First Nations and environmental organizations to find a better way forward.”
Together the groups vowed to continue building democratic resistance to Enbridge’s project across the province, using a community organizing model recently put to the test in Kitimat, the coastal town where citizens rejected Northern Gateway last April.
To this end, Dogwood Initiative has launched LetBCvote.ca, a campaign to prepare for a province-wide citizens’ initiative in the event Premier Christy Clark reverses her government’s rejection of Northern Gateway and attempts to issue provincial pipeline permits.
“First Nations have used their laws to protect our land and water from toxic, sinking bitumen. Will the provincial government do the same?” asked Jessica Clogg, Executive Director & Senior Counsel of the West Coast Environmental Law Association. “We are currently drafting legislation which, if introduced via a citizens’ initiative, would ensure B.C. uses its legislative authority to keep our rivers and streams free from Enbridge oil.”
As with the 2010 Initiative to End the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a successful petition would require signatures from 10 per cent of voters in each provincial riding, amounting to 320,000 people. With 153,000 B.C. voters already in support, Dogwood has trained canvassing teams in 31 of B.C.’s 85 ridings, from the Kootenays to Prince George to West Vancouver.
Vancouver Island group One Cowichan is building canvass teams in two additional ridings, encouraging other local organizations to do the same. “The work of creating space for clean energy solutions begins at the local level, neighbourhood by neighbourhood,” said One Cowichan’s Rosalie Sawrie. “We citizens are way ahead of our elected officials on this right now, so it’s up to us to come together to force them to catch up.”
Together Dogwood, One Cowichan and other partners are committed to building a network of allied organizers across all 85 provincial ridings in B.C.
“First Nations can’t do all the heavy lifting alone,” Sterritt said. “It’s time for people across this province to stand up for the home we all love. If we get organized and work together on the goals we all share, good luck to any politicians trying to force things on us from Ottawa.”
The Kitimat experience, organizers say, should serve as a warning to elected officials.
“Kitimat did stand to benefit from the Northern Gateway project, but not enough to convince my neighbours in this industrial town to accept the risks,” said Patricia Lange, an organizer with local volunteer group Douglas Channel Watch. “With little to gain and so much to lose, including existing jobs in the fishing and tourism industries – let alone the First Nations culture – we stood up to defend B.C.’s North Coast marine environment.”
“Enbridge’s advertisements didn’t fool people,” Lange said. “And when we finally had the chance to vote, we voted no.”