Enbridge: Not Now. Not Ever.

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Ricochet

Enbridge: Not Now. Not Ever.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper is on the cusp of announcing whether it will approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, which was conditionally approved by the National Energy Board (NEB) in December. Many consider the outcome of this decision a foregone conclusion. What is not a foregone conclusion is whether shovels will ever hit dirt on the controversial project.

The Enbridge pipeline, proposed in order to ship more than half a million barrels per day of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands across northern British Columbia to the Pacific coast, would stretch over 1,177 kilometres that includes hundreds of rivers and streams. The proposed route also cuts through the unceded territories of many First Nations, and the nations of the Yinka-Dene Alliance have been strongly opposed to the mega-project from the beginning.

Even if Harper gives Northern Gateway the green light, Enbridge faces an uphill battle. An unprecedented movement in British Columbia promises to practice civil disobedience on a mass scale, and use protesters’ bodies to block the pipeline. Communities along the pipeline route have voted against allowing the pipeline to pass, two thirds of B.C. residents consistently oppose the pipeline in polls and over 130 First Nations are opposed to the pipeline. Some of these nations are also well positioned to fight the plan in court, because the Indigenous territory the pipeline crosses was never ceded to the government.

Through an inconvenient display of popular power, the anti-Enbridge coalition has frustrated the Prime Minister, and proven to be a more effective thorn in Harper’s side than even his parliamentary opposition.

Over the years the Harper government has made clear that rapid expansion and development of the tar sands is a key strategic priority. Through an inconvenient display of popular power, the anti-Enbridge coalition has frustrated the Prime Minister, and proven to be a more effective thorn in Harper’s side than even his parliamentary opposition.

Over the past two years the country has seen a highly polarized debate over Enbridge. As the project’s prospects grow dimmer, the rhetoric used to demonize its opponents has become increasingly outlandish. Former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver tried to paint anti-pipeline activists as “foreign-funded radicals,” while Sun News’ Ezra Levant has led a crusade against charitable environmental groups.

For the most part, this McCarthyite witch hunt for foreign agents seeking to sabotage Canada’s economic prosperity on behalf of American or Middle Eastern interests has been met with derision. For most Canadians, the movement against pipelines includes their neighbours and family members, not Saudi sleeper agents. As a result the hysteria has backfired, helping fuel a movement polls and plebiscites show has widespread public support.

British Columbia has said a resounding ‘No’ to Enbridge. Not now. Not ever.

But even if Enbridge is killed, it will only give way to new proposals for tar sands pipelines.

It’s not about one bad pipeline: it’s about a series of bad pipelines linked to the really bad idea of expanding tar sands production.

It’s not about one bad pipeline: it’s about a series of bad pipelines linked to the really bad idea of expanding tar sands production.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the coalition of opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal is that it is led by Indigenous peoples. Most of British Columbia was never ceded by First Nations, and a landmark 1997 Supreme Court ruling found that First Nations still held Aboriginal title to much of the province. If the Harper government forces this pipeline through it will face a lawsuit from First Nations, a lawsuit observers say they are likely to lose. Even former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Prentice admits First Nations have a “very strong case.”

The government and Enbridge had legal and moral responsibilities to receive free, prior and informed consent from First Nations communities in the pipeline’s path. That ship has sailed, and their attempts to buy or coerce ex post facto consent are unlikely to succeed.

The tar sands are a many-headed hydra. New proposals for pipelines across northern BC are already popping up, anticipating Enbridge’s failure. With western routes blocked or at least stalled for now, projects like Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal, the Portland-Montreal Pipeline through the state of Maine, and TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline are casting a greedy eye eastward for the infrastructure needed for tar sands exports.

Stephen Harper calls this “nation-building.” We say massively expanding production of one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet in the midst of the climate crisis is a disastrous course of action.

Enbridge is just one skirmish in the battle to avert climate catastrophe and to give ourselves a chance at a decent and sustainable future.

Enbridge is just one skirmish in the battle to avert climate catastrophe and to give ourselves a chance at a decent and sustainable future.

We need to tackle this issue at its roots, and build a pan-Canadian and global movement to move off tar sands oil altogether and to shift our societies off of fossil fuels.

To do that, we need to open clear and direct lines of communication between powerful movements in Quebec and their counterparts in the rest of Canada. If we are to make meaningful progress on the most important issue of our age, we need to transcend the divides of language and national ambition which have kept us apart for too long.

Ricochet hopes to bridge those divides. We believe that until and unless we change the media, we cannot change the world.

Like newspapers across the country, we will take editorial positions from time to time. Unlike any mainstream news outlet in this country, our editorial position on the tar sands is clear: shut it down. First by halting expansion, and then by transitioning to alternative sources of energy, retraining workers and massively investing in the development of green jobs.

It’s time to stop talking about the best interests of oil companies, and start talking about the best interests of Canadians.

Ricochet editors' note: Although our French and English editions are editorially independent, we will publish joint editorials in both languages from time to time. This is the first of those. You can read the French version here.

Ricochet Editorial

Ricochet is a new progressive media outlet in Canada, launched in 2014, based on a crowd-funded, bilingual and independent model.