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Is this the end of Enbridge's West Coast pipe dreams? Hold the victory parade

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Defend our Coast rally. (Photo by Chris Yakimov / Flickr)

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There is cause for cautious celebration in B.C., just over two weeks after an election result that was devastating to progressive and environmentally minded people in British Columbia.

The good news: the B.C. government formally came out against Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. The B.C. Liberals' Minister of Environment, Terry Lake, announced the official position in conjunction with submitting a formal letter from the province to the Joint Review Panel currently underway.

What explains the anti-Enbridge stance of the re-elected B.C. Liberals, who just ran a campaign fuelled by Big Oil backing and money?

The most succinct early analysis of the news came from Dogwood Initiative, one of the groups that has for years campaigned against Enbridge:

Premier Clark has staked her political future on rapidly ramping up Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exports from B.C. It was the centerpiece both of her jobs plan and the cash cow that would help her claw her way out of significant budget deficits.

Anything but a strong NO to Enbridge would have raised the ire of northern First Nations and communities -- those whom she quickly needs to appease to fast track her LNG plans. Simply put, a YES to Enbridge would have … unleashed a backlash of civil disobedience unprecedented in our province's history.

Dogwood explained it was "good politics" for the B.C. Liberals to come out now against Enbridge, seeing as the pipeline project has become "politically toxic" in this province.

The B.C. NDP, for its part -- who came out clearly against Enbridge a couple of years ago, but waited until mid-election campaign to oppose the other major tar sands pipeline proposal, Kinder Morgan -- issued their own statement:

It is a case of too little, too late. The B.C. Liberals signed away decision-making authority to Ottawa in 2010 and that has not changed. We know Ottawa continues to support the project, so saying 'no' today is a toothless gesture and the Liberals know it. If they had any interest in actually stopping the pipeline from being built, the Liberals would withdraw from the agreement that gives Ottawa the only authority for approval of the pipeline.

So no one should be planning the anti-Enbridge victory parade just yet. Final decision-making power indeed rests with the federal government, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated that they would be willing to use Cabinet powers to approve the pipeline even in the event the Joint Review rejects it.

What is important to note and, yes, to celebrate, is just how far the political ground has shifted in less than two years on this issue.

Back in early 2012, the B.C. NDP was still pretty quiet on the pipeline, and Premier Christy Clark had brought on Ken Boessenkool -- a former lobbyist for Enbridge and senior policy advisor to Harper -- as her chief of staff.

Around the same time, Harper’s natural resources minister Joe Oliver began brazenly insulting any and all opponents of the Enbridge pipeline as 'radicals' and 'foreign-funded' extremists.

Oliver's political offensive failed spectacularly, spurring much more discussion about Enbridge in B.C. Throughout 2012, the issue dominated the headlines. The more people in this province learned, the more their opposition to the project solidified.

At the same time, an inspiring and unprecedented "wall of opposition" was building, with First Nations at the foundation. The Save the Fraser Declaration brought together over 130 First Nations chiefs from across B.C., Alberta and beyond in opposition to both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan. And this was supplemented by grassroots environmental campaigns and mobilizations.

Finally, Christy Clark realized she had to say something about the pipeline, so she came out with her "five conditions" the pipeline had to meet and engaged in some media sabre-rattling with Alberta Premier Alison Redford. But that rhetorical back-and-forth, focusing on B.C.'s financial stake or lack thereof in the pipeline, revealed Clark's lack of understanding of the fundamental ecological and indigenous rights case against Enbridge.

In October, while the legislature in Victoria was shut down (Clark has barely opened the place since becoming premier two years ago), many thousands descended on the provincial capital on a Monday morning for a 'Defend Our Coast' action that highlighted the strength of the opposition to tar sands pipelines.

So while we can thank Joe Oliver and his tacky, over-the-top rhetoric for fuelling the fire, it is ultimately these mobilizations and alliances, building on longer-standing indigenous rights and sovereignty movements in B.C., that forced the Liberals' position against Enbridge.

While it’s true that the Liberals' announcement isn’t the end of Enbridge, it does mark a victory that they have been forced into this position. And while we keep the heat up on the scandal-ridden Harper government, we should also study the success around Enbridge in order to better campaign and mobilize against Kinder Morgan and Clark’s flagship LNG-fracking carbon corridor plans in the north.

So celebrate in moderation; there is much to learn and apply to the big battles ahead.


Orginally published in The Source

Photo by Chris Yakimov / Flickr

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