Enbridge opponents rally against pipeline in Prince George

Several hundred people gathered outside Prince George MP Dick Harris' office on Thursday to voice their opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

Protesters sang songs, waved signs and vowed to stop the proposed pipeline, "whatever it takes."

Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Chief Terry Teegee said opponents of the pipeline need to send a political message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. Canada and B.C. should be focusing on developing alternative energy instead of continuing to promote fossil fuels, he said.

"We need alternatives. We've come here to say 'no' to the project," he said. "Much like alternatives to energy, we need an alternative to this government. They changed the rules… laying out the big red carpet to big oil."

On Tuesday the federal government announced regulatory approval for the proposed 1,177 km twin pipeline from Alberta's oil sands to Kitimat. The pipeline would transport oil from Alberta to a marine terminal in Kitimat, and condensate -a chemical used to treat crude oil for transport -from the terminal to Alberta.

Voters should take their opposition to the ballot box in the federal election slated for 2015.

"There is 21 Conservative MPs in B.C. We can tell Harper that his agenda doesn't belong in British Columbia," Teegee said. "[Harper is] making unilateral decisions, he's being a dictator. It we want democracy, we need to take it: impose our will on the government, not the other way around. We are the majority."

UNBC climate researcher professor Ian Picketts, a member of the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, said the proposed pipeline is the opposite of progress.

"The thing that depresses me is a project like this isn't just one step backwards, it's a 25-year, locked-in move backwards," Picketts said. "If this is a bad idea now, in 10 years it is going to be a terrible idea."

Picketts said despite his research he's optimistic humanity can solve environmental issues like climate change, if solutions are given a chance.

"As humans, as stupid as we can be… we are also incredibly smart and innovative," he said. "All we need is a chance to have an economy that doesn't pit the environment verses money. All we need is a chance to think forward."

Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance spokesperson Mary MacDonald – and others – said she was pleased to see so many children and young people at the rally.

"I think a lot of the reason a lot of us are here today is thinking about future generations," MacDonald said.

Nineteen-year-old Gracie Wilson said she's concerned about the future her generation, and her children's generation, will have.

"As a young person… I'm terrified by the very real prospect of an oil spill," Wilson said. "I'm saying 'no' to toxic bitumen moving across the territory of 50 First Nations. I'm saying 'no' to B.C. being a doormat for oil companies to wipe their feet on."

Peter Ewert of the Stand Up For the North Committee said Enbridge and the Conservatives need to understand they can't simply force projects through without local popular support.

"It is no longer the case that the federal government and resource companies can ram their unpopular resource projects through B.C." Ewert said. "First Nations are affirming their right to have a say on what happens in their traditional lands."

Municipalities and citizens from across the province are also standing up to voice their opposition, he added.

"Friends, our struggle is being watched all across Canada and around the world," Ewert said. "[Our struggle] not to have our rights trampled by corporations that could care less about our beautiful mountains, forests [and] rivers…"

A large delegation from the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation near Fort Fraser came to Prince George to show their opposition to the proposed pipeline.

Nadleh Whut'en Chief Martin Louie said it's time for First Nations people to take the driver's seat and determine their own future.

"Throughout history, First Nations have always been sitting in the backseat somehow – decisions have been made for us," Louie said. "It's time they listen to us -to put our laws back on the land. First Nations are the voices for the land, the animals… the water. We're here to protect the future of our children- our kids your kids."

Harper's government is putting the business interests of foreign companies ahead of the interests of Canadian citizens, he added.

"What are we going to leave here for our kids? That is what we're going to protect, for B.C., Canada and for the world."

PIPELINE POLITICS

In an interview on Wednesday, NDP finance critic and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said he's disappointed, but not surprised, by the Conservative's decision on the pipeline.

"This was a predetermined thing. [Harper] stacked the deck with laws and gave himself the power to approve this," Cullen said. "The environmental assessment [process] needs to be fixed in this country. The [National Energy Board joint review panel] overwhelmingly heard from people opposed to the pipeline, but still found a way to approve it."

Cullen said many of the 209 conditions recommended by the board's review panel "were written by Enbridge."

"And many are just to obey the law. It's pretty sad when we have to have conditions included to obey the laws of Canada," he said.

Cullen said the Conservatives have tried to distance themselves politically from the announcement. The day it was made, Cullen said he tried to goad one of the 21 Conservative MPs from B.C. to defend their decision, but not one would rise to speak in the House of Commons.

"I still don't think believe this pipeline will every be built… Certainly the lawsuits will begin, and cost the taxpayers millions," he said. "I also think it's going to go to the ballot box in 2015. It may be their political demise."

According to an Angus Reid poll conducted after the announcement, 37 per cent of Canadians polled said the federal government made the right choice, 34 per cent said the Conservatives made the wrong choice and 29 per cent were unsure. However, in B.C. 40 per cent of people said the Tories made the wrong call.

UNBC political scientist Gary Wilson it remains to be seen if the Enbridge decision will have an effect on the Conservatives' election results in B.C.

"Voters tend to have short memories," Wilson said. "The opposition is very vocal. [But] they may not be the people who would vote Conservative anyway. There is a silent plurality who are not speaking up on Enbridge."

Much will depend on the quality of candidates and the quality of campaign the opposition parties bring to the election, he added.

"It's always hard to run against incumbents, especially incumbents who have been around a long time," Wilson said. "[And] the Conservative base here is pretty strong."

See more at the Prince George Citizen.