Are pipeline politics undermining Canada's democracy?

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For the last two years, I have been intensely following the review process and the wave of opposition to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would extend from Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. Unfortunately, I have also seen what appears to be an erosion of democracy in Canada.

During this time, we have seen the federal majority Conservative government gut Canada’s environmental laws through omnibus bills and streamline the review process for future major resource projects all in what would appear to be an attempt to roll out these projects regardless of the risks and objections. Now we hear the feds want to cut $100 million from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

I guess they think we don’t need fresh water to survive -- oh wait, we do! Our supposed leaders are risking turning Canada into a "Petro-state" that seems to value short-term economic gain from fossil fuels over long-term environmental and economic sustainability.

On December 19, 2013, the review process for Northern Gateway wrapped up with the panel releasing their decision. They recommended approval for the project despite massive opposition. However, if Enbridge wishes to proceed with this project, they must meet 209 conditions set out by the review panel, for the federal government’s consideration.

What I find really disturbing is that according to the David Suzuki Foundation, 1161 people voiced their opinion on the proposed pipeline, with 1159 against and two in favour of the pipeline. If the panel valued the opinion of the two people in favour over the 1159 opposed, could someone explain to me how this process could possibly be considered to be fair and objective?

The panel said they focused on the science in their decision. Did they look at legitimate science regarding the impacts of bitumen spills on First Nations communities, wildlife and the general environment, or was it science geared to be more "pipeline friendly?" Were these hearings truly impartial?

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any pipelines anywhere provided the proper safety measures are in place. However, the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and related tanker traffic puts at risk a highly sensitive ecological region -- B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest. This temperate rainforest is home to First Nations, who are steadfast in their opposition to Enbridge, as well as spectacular wildlife, including the rare white Kermode or "Spirit Bear," which happens to be B.C.’s Official Mammal.

Enbridge’s track record doesn’t inspire me with confidence!

Enbridge has had over 800 spills since 1999. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River causing the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Over three years later, Enbridge has yet to properly deal with the mess made by their ruptured pipeline.

B.C.’s Premier Christy Clark says she has five conditions that must be met to support the project. Given Enbridge’s history and the massive opposition, why doesn’t she just say plain and simply "No!" under any circumstances? The risks are simply too high!

It’s time that we in Canada stop letting pipeline politics undermine our democracy, as well as threaten our environment and our own wellbeing, now and into the future!


James MacGregor is a concerned British Columbian.

Photo: flickr/Chris Yakimov

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