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Standing up for Canada at the Northern Gateway hearings

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On April 24, 2012, the federally appointed Joint Review Panel began its second day of hearing oral statements related to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project in Smithers, British Columbia this week. The review panel has been tasked with assessing the balance of social, economic, and environmental concerns related to the proposed tar sands oil pipeline and it associated marine terminal. Particularly, as is standard with any nationally regulated energy pipeline, the panel must determine if the pipeline serves Canada's national interest.

This question of the Canadian national interest has been a particularly loaded one. On January 9, 2012, Canadian Minister of Natural Resource Joe Oliver stated that Canada is faced with "an historic choice ... regarding our energy policies." Suggesting it is vital to Canada's "national economic interest," Oilver signalled his government's commitment to "expand our trade with the fast-growing Asian economies."

In this suggestion, however, Oliver invoked a particular construction of the national interest, one which defined other environmental and social concerns as special interests distinct from the concerns of our national community. Further, he suggested that "environmentalists and other radical groups" constituted a threat to the vital "national economic interest."

However, in their presentations before the panel in the remote rural north, community members elucidated another vision of what it means to be part of the Canadian nation. Monica Howard came forward, rhetorically asking the assembled panel and community members, "how do we stand up against oil and gas?" The answer for her, as for many in the room, was to stand up for Canada.

So Monica Howard did. She stood to sing the national anthem and declare her dedication to defending this land. Sheila Leggett, the panel chair, however, interjected. A panel reviewing the national interest was no place for pronouncements of nationalist sentiment. It is worth quoting from the transcript at length.

"MS. MONICA HOWARD: How do we stand up against oil and gas? We stand up and we sing the anthem. That was my plan today. So if anyone wants to join me, please do.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Would you -- Ms. Howard, would you mind sitting down, please? We're here to hear an oral statement about the potential ---

MS. MONICA HOWARD: But I want to sing the anthem.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, you can sing the anthem at some other point, but right now we're listening to your oral statement, which is about the potential ---

MS. MONICA HOWARD: It's part of my oral statement.

THE CHAIRPERSON: And we want to hear about your personal opinions on the potential effects."

But for Monica Howard, understanding her personal opinions about oil pipelines was deeply entwined with understanding her relationship to her national identity. She described how watching hockey, that quintessentially Canadian activity, it struck her. "I'm watching the hockey game last week and I listened to the anthem, and the words hit me. O Canada, our home and native land, true patriot love, in all thy sons command."

However, as the panel, supposed defenders of our Canadian national interest, have an apparent dislike for the national anthem, Monica Howard did not stand and sing. Rather she sat. She sat and she read. As she explained it to the panel, "I'm only going to read it because if I'm going to sing it, I should be standing."

After reading the anthem, Monica Howard explained, that it is for Canada, not for special interests or foreign interests, that "all these people have come to give their words. We are standing on guard for our country, for our land, for our people. If we do not do it, nobody will do it for us. So that's why I am here."

Monica Howard went on to talk about family and food. She talked about the rivers, and the salmon that they bring to us. She talked about how all of this comes together to make community. And she talked about her commitment to maintain the health of her community and its environment. "I want to grow old in this valley, sharing the resources that we have with all the people who will come after me."

Howard brought Chinook salmon to share with the panel, staff, and audience. In closing, she reminded the panel that the community built around the rivers needed to be protected. "It's not a given you will be able to eat out of the river, and to share it with descendants of my family and new people who will come here. ... And that is why I oppose this proposed pipeline."

As she ended the audience applauded. Then the audience stood. It stood and it sang.

O Canada, our home and native land,
true patriot love, in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts, we see thee rise,
the true north, strong and free.
From far and wide, O Canada,
we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land, glorious and free,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

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