It isn’t often that a construction project comes to the attention of more than 90 per cent of British Columbians.
But the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal is not like other construction projects.
It will cross some of the most pristine and productive salmon habitat in our province. It will also cross the Great Bear Rainforest, home of the Spirit Bear.
And it crosses First Nations territories that have never been under a treaty and where the Supreme Court has said when any resource projects that may affect existing Aboriginal rights are contemplated, the First Nations most affected must be fully consulted on the project before it begins.
When my colleague, Nathan Cullen, who represents most of the area the pipeline will cross, visited the Island on March 22 as part of his Take Back the Coast tour, he spoke to hundreds of people concerned about the Northern Gateway and the environmental and social effect it will have on our province.
Since the 2011 election, we’ve seen the Conservative majority erase the laws that had protected our waterways for generations, change environmental laws so pipelines could be approved sooner with less rigorous assessments and order the Canadian Revenue Agency to investigate environmental charities that actively opposed the pipeline.
I know I’ve heard many of our neighbours say it seems like the Conservatives are trying to stack the deck so the pipeline can go forward, even if British Columbians do not want it.
Enbridge, the pipeline proponent, has a sorry safety record. Since 1999, their pipelines have had more than 800 spills.
From the terminus at Kitimat, the piped oil would then be moved to oil tankers — Enbridge estimates 220 a year for 50 years or 11,000 — that would then have to navigate through the treacherous currents and numerous islands of the North coast.
We just passed the 25th anniversary of the worst oil spill disaster to date on our coast, the Exxon Valdez running aground in Prince William Sound. Scientists discovered that although wildlife has returned to the Sound, you can still find oil just a few inches below the surface on the beach, as viscous and harmful as it was the day it was spilled.
The first people to speak out against the pipeline were, not surprisingly, First Nations along the pipeline and the proposed tanker route. They are very concerned that the land they have used for sustenance for millennia would be polluted forever by an oil spill, fouling the waters and making all seafood unfit for consumption.
So long after the oil stops being mined in Alberta, and long after the pipeline goes dry and the tankers stop sailing, the First Nations still would not be able to use the land as they have for generations.
Is it worth the risk?
More and more people in our communities are saying no and want the Conservative government to listen to them and say no to the Northern Gateway pipeline.