rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Northern Gateway may be approved, but it's far from built

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: Flickr/Caelie Frampton

Please help rabble.ca support democratic movements working to stop dangerous projects like Northern Gateway. Become a monthly supporter.

The Government of Canada approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline Tuesday, six months after the Joint Review Panel recommended the pipeline be built subject to 209 conditions.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in a statement: "In December 2013, the Joint Review Panel found that construction and operation of the Northern Gateway Pipelines project is in the public interest, subject to 209 conditions being met by the proponent. After carefully reviewing the report, the Government accepts the independent Panel's recommendation to impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway Pipelines' proposal."

"Today constitutes another step in the process," Rickford said, adding Enbridge committed to working with "aboriginal groups and local communities along the route."

First Nations reignite opposition across B.C.

First Nations are nearly unanimously opposed to the construction of the pipeline, however, and it is unclear how either Enbridge or the Harper government might address those concerns, steeped as they are within a constitutionally enshrined aboriginal rights framework.

In total, 130 First Nations have publicly rejected the project.

According to the Gitga'at Nation, the panel failed to legitimately consult First Nations during the review process, meaning the entire process did not meet the federal government's legal duty to meaningfully consult aboriginal groups. How that conundrum can be remedied after the fact is anyone's guess.

Upon announcement of the federal approval of the pipeline, a large group of First Nations, Councils and Assemblies launched a legal suit against the Government of Canada, saying "we will defend our territories whatever the costs may be."

"This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our right and our laws," the groups stated in a press release. "We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories. Our rights and laws compel us." The groups include Gitxsan, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Wet'suwet'en First Nation, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and Coastal First Nations among many others.

This Friday, the Gitga'at First Nation will string a colourful knit rope across the Douglas Channel, the export route of Northern Gateway tankers, in symbolic protest of the project.

Legal challenges advance

In addition, the panel's report was met with several legal challenges that addressed ongoing concerns with federal obligations to species at risk, such as caribou and the humpback whale (although, in what conservation groups saw as a brazen move, the federal government downgraded the status of the humpback whale).

The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) announced it will file a suit challenging the pipeline's approval on behalf of the Federation of B.C. Naturalists (B.C. Nature).

"Filing this lawsuit will ensure that the Federal Court of Appeal is able to hear and consider arguments relating to all of the various flaws and deficiencies associated with the Northern Gateway approval process," Chris Tollefson, ELC executive director and B.C.Nature's lawyer, said.

"We cannot stand by and allow Cabinet to approve this ill-conceived project on the basis of a JRP report that is so flawed and incomplete," Kees Visser, President of B.C.Nature, said.

Majority of British Columbians may have final say

British Columbians have also demonstrated on numerous occasions their majority opposition to the project. Most recently a Bloomberg-Nanos poll showed 67 per cent of British Columbians wanted the project either rejected or delayed for further review.

This week at a press conference, the Dogwood Initiative, a democracy group in B.C., announced the project's approval would be met with a citizen's initiative -- a province-wide vote that could oust the project by popular request. The Dogwood Initiative, along with several other environmental, First Nations, citizen and legal groups, will organize the vote, handing decision-making power once and for all to British Columbians.

The initiative, called "Let B.C. Vote," already has 150,000 signatures.

The citizens' initiative tool was successfully used in 2010 to oust the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) pushed through by the Liberal government.

When it comes to gaining the approval of British Columbia, some of Premier Christy Clark's five conditions have yet to be met, including securing B.C.'s "fair share" of benefits from the project. But perhaps more significantly, in April, residents of Kitimat, the proposed terminus of the pipeline and start of the export tanker route, voted "No" to the project in a local plebiscite, showing even those who stand to gain the most don't support Enbridge in its ambitions.

209 conditions perhaps most significant obstacle

As DeSmog Canada previously reported, the 209 conditions outlined by the National Energy Board (NEB) might ultimately represent the largest obstacle to the pipeline's construction.

Changes to the NEB Act in 2012 (in the passing of the infamous Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 which saw the elimination of several environmental laws) made project conditions legally binding, meaning they cannot be discarded by government as happened with theMackenzie Gas Project. Although cabinet still holds the power to supplement or alter conditions in certain circumstances.

The 209 conditions fall into three phases: pre-construction, construction and pre-operation, and ongoing operations. To fulfill the 209 conditions, Enbridge will have to demonstrate to the NEB that the full requirements are being met throughout all phases of the project.

DeSmog Canada's Heather Libby deconstructed the conditions in a previous post, outlining conditions specific to watercourse crossings, animal habitat, marine spill prevention and cleanup and shipping agreements.

Without all of the considerable legal challenges and technical difficulties and political uncertainties surrounding the project, construction could begin as early as seven months from now.

But with the hellfire sure to break loose, this approval means next to nothing about the project's potential for actually being built.

Image: Flickr/Caelie Frampton

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.