OUT ON A LIMB: Just say no to the Northern Gateway Pipeline

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to appreciate this region’s natural values

The Northern Gateway Pipeline issue could potentially be a psychological watershed moment for livability in British Columbia.

Polls indicate that support for the pipeline, on condition that it brings economic benefit to the province, is somewhere around 50 per cent. The number surprises me, I think it’s less.

But there’s potential that this issue could redefine this province from an environmental point of view. The reason being, that opposition to the pipeline is pretty strong and pretty pervasive. Even a person I know as a staunch political conservative is against it.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is hedging her bets on it. Sure, her government’s position is on approving the pipeline if five conditions are met – one of them being a greater share in the financial benefits – but anything that doesn’t involve the Liberals falling all over themselves to accommodate a major development is a surprise.

What’s so universally obvious in this proposal is the realization that one of the most beautiful corners of the world is in danger here. The Yellowhead Highway cuts across the province following roughly the route this pipeline would take. I’ve driven this route many times and having in-laws in Prince Rupert, I know that the drive from that port town to Terrace, B.C. along the Skeena River is one of the most spectacular drives in the province and, therefore, the world.

This region also forms the core of the Y2Y – Yellowhead to Yukon – conservation initiative which “seeks to preserve and maintain the wildlife, native plants, wilderness and natural processes of the mountainous region from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory.”

The province of British Columbia has also implemented a complex conservation/land use management plan in the Muskwa-Kechika region of the province, just north of the pipeline route.

This is spectacular wilderness of which, as we all know, there is less and less in the world. And that’s why I think this is a watershed moment.

An analogy that illustrates my point on this is what the voters in the City of Vancouver did in the 1960s. Residents opposed a freeway cutting through the centre of the city, which virtually every North American city was doing at the time. It forever changed the way Vancouver evolved and is in no small part responsible for it being continually judged one of the world’s most liveable cities.

Now, the Northern Gateway issue is on a much larger scale but the psychological moment is no less defining. I think people in this province want to say no to this project. And that will send a huge message to the country and the world that for once, people get it that sometimes natural values outweigh developmental benefits. It’s a huge statement made loud and clear.

Already there are demonstrations going on in the region stating opposition to the project. If it looks like it’s going to go ahead, those demonstrations will get louder, clearer and, perhaps, uglier.

The response from Alberta premier Alison Redford to Clark’s conditions has been typical of the arrogance of big oil and its supporters. They dismissively say, of course there will be environmental safeguards on the project and of course there will be community consultation. That’s easy for them to give lip service.

But the demand that British Columbia get a larger share of the economic benefits than they’re entitled to is really sticking in their craw. And it may be the deal breaker. Which, of course, for many of us, is just fine. Break the deal.

Clark is not likely a closet environmentalist so I don’t know if she is actually playing both sides of the fence by approving the plan by imposing a potentially deal-breaking condition. Then at the end she can tell the business community she tried to make it work while the softer environmentalist constituency (i.e., mainstream residents of B.C.) can be appeased with the fact that the project just died.

If you’ve still got summer holidays coming to you, I suggest you take the ferry to Rupert, drive along the Skeena River then head up the Alaska Highway to the Yukon and see just what’s at stake. The cliche “so-and-so’s Serengeti” is used far too much these days but the northern half of this province is as wild as it gets in this world and to spew oil all over it would be a disgrace.

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to appreciate this region’s natural values. And appreciate them over potential industrial revenue.