The B.C. capital would seem an unlikely place to expect any political action this fall, especially since lame duck Premier Christy Clark announced there won’t even be a fall sitting of the Legislature.

No matter. Victoria will see some real politics instead — political action with consequences that will resonate right across Canada.

On Monday, October 22, one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history will take place on the lawn of the B.C. legislature. Already well over 2,000 have pledged to participate, under the banner “Defend Our Coast.” Hundreds plan to risk arrest to send a strong and simple message: people are united in resolute, steadfast opposition to the pipelines planned by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan that seek to ramp up exports of raw bitumen from the Alberta tar sands.

October 22 will be a mass sit-in. It may also prove to be the most significant public expression yet of an incipient mass movement against the Harper government, and the Big Oil interests it serves. The shocking and alarming record melt of Arctic ice cover adds even more urgency to the October 22 mobilization.

To follow-up, there will be a day of distributed actions against tankers and pipelines on October 24. Already more than 50 communities in B.C. have signed up to hold a solidarity action. Follow this double-header mobilization, over a thousand youth delegates will gather in Ottawa for Powershift 2012, a vitally important meeting of climate justice organizers. 

All this makes for an important week for Canadian politics. It will be a chance to get us closer to the mass social movement that is desperately needed to challenge the corporate agenda, and energize the widespread anti-Harper sentiment.

If we fail to build a movement that can inspire and capture the imagination, Harper’s relentless and regressive agenda will grind inexorably ahead.

Fortunately, signs abound that the movement to stop the tar sands pipeline is capturing imaginations. One of the most promising signs is the public griping of none other than Enbridge’s CEO… 

Enbridge vs. the ‘revolutionaries’ 

Big Oil executives are not used to not getting their way. How else can we explain the recent bizarre, whining outburst from Enbridge’s CEO Patrick Daniel? Lamenting his company’s spate of disastrous press — the low point was getting compared to “Keystone Kops” by U.S. investigators reporting on Enbridge’s handling of their 2010 spill in Michigan — Daniel vented his spleen to an Alberta radio host over the summer:

“Everything that we say sounds defensive and self-interested, and on the other side, everything they say … is really taken as gospel — and it isn’t … I think we’re facing a very strong, almost revolutionary movement to try to get off oil worldwide, and it creates a lot of passion and drive in those revolutionaries that are trying to change the environment in which we work.”

In this inelegant complaint, Pat Daniel is, paradoxically, both wildly wrong and quite correct.

On the one hand, this is through the looking glass stuff, charging essentially that his embattled company can’t get a fair hearing in the press. To counter this structural injustice, Enbridge spent hundreds of thousands on full-page ads in a number of major Canadian newspapers, supplementing their usual fold-out, glossy paid spreads in magazines like The Walrus and Macleans, not to mention their wall-to-wall ads during the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, etc.

It’s also hilariously misplaced for Daniel to blame “revolutionaries” for his company’s predicament. Like the Harper government, which has variously labeled pipeline critics as “radicals,” “extremists” and “foreign-backed,” it’s an attempt to use an exotic word to frame all opponents of the pipeline project as extremists. This name-calling is supposed to make Big Oil critics look like a fringe bunch.

But of course you don’t need to be a “radical” or a “revolutionary” to oppose Enbridge and other similar bitumen-exporting mega-projects. You just need a modicum of common sense. People in B.C. understand very easily the danger posed by running twin pipelines across hundreds of fish-bearing waterways and sensitive ecosystems and then exporting toxic bitumen through one of the most dangerous water channels in North America. And of course that’s why opponents of Enbridge are not the fringe in this province, but the vast majority.

Patrick Daniel’s problem is not Bolsheviks, but British Columbians. Daniel’s real problem is that farmers, fishers, First Nations and most everyone else who lives along the pipeline route, as well as most people throughout B.C., can see that his proposed pipeline would be disastrous.

Tables have turned against Harper on pipeline debates

I think this odd outburst by Enbridge’s CEO is an encouraging measure of just how far the debate on the issue of this pipeline has shifted in little more than half a year. Remember, it was just last winter that saw the Conservatives’ Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver writing letters calling pipeline opponents all kinds of nasty names to tar them (pun intended) as enemies of the state. That kind of over-heated rhetoric turned out to be over-reach by the Harper government, a lesson Pat Daniel seems to have failed to absorb.

Pat Daniel was not completely wrong, however. Although “revolutionaries” have very little to do with why he’s losing the debate over his pipeline, he is right to fear a revolution — an energy revolution.

Big Oil companies, year after year, continue to make the largest profits in human history at the expense of nature and climate stability. There are many signs — for instance, record melts for Greenland and the Arctic ice sheet this year — that point towards the ominous conclusion that climate change is not only already underway, but that it is exceeding the predictions of most scientific models.

The logical, prudent and revolutionary task of our generation is to transform the world’s energy infrastructure, to get off of fossil fuel energy — such as oil, gas and coal — as soon as possible. A first step in this direction would be to end all subsidies to oil, gas and coal, and to massively invest public money into research and development of alternative energy. Another important step would be to dramatically decrease the inequality of wealth, which results in so much wanton consumption and waste. 

Of course, the Harper government is going in precisely the opposite direction from where we need to be headed. They are racing backwards to the days of corporate robber barons unchecked by government regulation and environmental protections. 

The fact that Enbridge’s boss is unhappy is a good sign, but none of us should be really happy until his friend in Ottawa is removed from power. Too much is at stake. We can’t afford to live in a world run by the likes of Patrick Daniel and Stephen Harper.

So, join the Revolution. It’s going to take an unprecedented social movement right across Canada to get this done. The coming week promises to help point us in the right direction. Together we’ll end the Enbridge pipeline — and Kinder Morgan too — and we’ll transform our energy infrastructure and create a more egalitarian and just society.


Much of this article was first published in a bi-weekly column I write for The Source

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe is a writer in Vancouver, B.C. He served as rabble.ca's editor from 2012 to 2013 and from 2008 to 2009.