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If pipelines connect the West and East, it is only in the opposition to them

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As people on different sides of the country, who have been following the steady stream of pipeline proposals, we want to get one thing straight: pipelines will not connect the East and the West by providing “energy security” for Canada.

We keep hearing politicians, with Alberta Premier Redford and her new recruit New Brunswick Premier Alward leading the way, heralding tar sands pipelines as the key to uniting the east and the west, paving the way for energy security in this country, and a brighter economic future.

Redford and Alward may be right in that pipelines can unite a country, but where they’re wrong is why pipelines are bringing people together: to fight these tar sands export pipelines.  

People in British Columbia have been fighting the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and the Kinder Morgan expansion pipeline, both of which would bring tar sands to the Pacific Coast for export. Pipelines have become one of the largest political issues in B.C. People in B.C. have been doing a great job in keeping a critical eye on these pipeline companies, knowing very well that these corporations and the politicians who back them do not have the best interest of communities in mind. If they did, they may have listened to the over 130 First Nations that have signed onto the Save the Fraser Declaration, which bans tar sands and tankers through the signatories’ territories, and to the municipalities in B.C. who voted and passed a resolution in September 2012 stating that they “oppose projects that would lead to the expansion of oil tanker traffic through B.C.’s coastal waters.”

As a result, industry and politicians have turned their heads eastward, and  are trying to get the crude to new markets through Atlantic ports via the TransCanada Energy East pipeline, an existing gas line that stretches from Alberta to Montreal which they hope to convert to a tar sands pipeline. What makes Pacific waters so much more worth protecting than Atlantic waters? What makes the rivers and streams in B.C. so much more important than those in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick? What makes corporate profits off eastern export pipelines okay, and corporate profits off the west not okay? Nothing.

While opposition in the East mounts against Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline and TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, activists in the west need to ask themselves a difficult question: have they just sent the problem out East?

Maybe they could have done a better job at shifting the debate from NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) to NOPE (Not on Planet Earth), but the reality is that industry is reacting to the fierce pipeline opposition. The oil and gas industry have lobbied governments and encouraged changes to legislation that weaken environmental protection, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) admitted that they asked the federal government to “improve the business climate." What was hindering the business climate before? Public input? Basic environmental protections of rivers and lakes? Demands of mitigating climate change and stopping tar sands expansion? Respecting Indigenous sovereignty?

Yes, those things may hinder the fossil fuel industry’s ability to profit, but corporations’ bottom line isn’t a community’s priority. We care about our drinking water and our communities that could be poisoned by the tar sands and oil spills. We care about the millions of people around the world who will be forced to leave their homes due to climate change and its impacts of droughts, floods, and hurricanes.

We are connecting to fight back against the corporate agenda and we are connecting for self-defence -- to defend water, land, the climate, and our communities. Pipelines do not represent national unity. They represent the corporate attack.

So while Redford, Alward, and others continue talking about a national energy strategy, concerned people from the West and the East are coming together to fight the existing national energy strategy, as laid out by the Conservative agenda. This agenda aims to develop and export energy resources as quickly as possible to ensure corporate profits. It disregards the demands of communities and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Outside of bureaucratic walls, however, we have a different strategy. We have a strategy based on justice and ensuring that communities can find solutions for themselves. We believe that community-based renewable energy systems can actually create safe, local jobs that don’t destroy our water and contribute to climate change. We believe that divesting from the fossil fuel profiteers can free up funding for better public mass transit and green buildings that reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

We believe that no strategy is a just strategy if it means putting communities at risk of spills like the ones that happened in the span of only a week in Minnesota, Arkansas, and Alberta. If this is their strategy, they need to go back to the drawing board.

As for our drawing board? It includes sketches of movements resisting pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway. And we are drawing the images of us in the east and the west fighting other export pipelines that threaten our communities. We are drawing us winning.

Amara Possian is an organizer with Climate Justice Montreal, focused on resisting TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline & Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline, which could collectively bring over 1 million barrels of tar sands oil out east every single day. Follow her on twitter @amarapossian.

Maryam Adrangi is the Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner with the Council of Canadians in Vancouver. Follow Council of Canadians @CouncilofCDNs.

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