Douglas Channel Watch enjoys support, exposure in plebiscite campaign

Douglas Channel Watch shares their experiences in the campaign for Kitimat's April 12 plebiscite.

(An article focusing on Enbridge’s side of the campaign is available here.)

Kitimat’s local, award winning environmental activism group Douglas Channel Watch is reaching new heights as they campaign against Enbridge ahead of Kitimat’s April 12 plebiscite.

The organization formed out of concern over the proposed development of the Northern Gateway Pipelines project and ever since their first meeting of a handful of people they’ve grown into a force to reckon with.

One of the group’s members, Murray Minchin, said the group has always kept their efforts focused. They began studying Enbridge’s pipeline safety, then studied the proposal itself, and eventually some became intervenors in the Joint Review Panel process.

“Now it’s the plebiscite. We have this goal in mind and we’re fully engaged and concentrating on that right now. After that it’s going to be whatever Prime Minister Harper has to say. And then we’ll decide what to do after that. We keep moving from one goal to the next and we haven’t forecast into the future,” he said.

The group is currently enjoying a sudden spike in community support, not the least of which is financial, which is helping them purchase advertising to compete against Enbridge’s own campaign.

“Two weeks ago we had $200 in the bank. A week ago, $2,000. It’s more than that now but I can’t say for sure,” said Minchin. “The donations are keeping pace with what we hope to do with advertising.”

One of the key volunteers for the campaigning is Patricia Lange. A long-time follower of the group, she only very recently took the plunge in becoming a full-on member.

“When this [plebiscite] came out I became a member,” she said. “I think there’s always been a groundswell of support but now people are signing up or committing to the cause.”

But one thing is sure for Douglas Channel Watch and that is it will continue to be a Kitimat effort. They say they’ve turned down funding offers from larger organizations.

“It’s funny, we’re turning people away from all over who want to come,” said Lange. “We just feel it’s a grassroots thing. It’s just Kitimat.”

Not to say they’ve entirely turned down volunteers. There are some who have come in from other groups or areas, but they’re not the ones who help make decisions or pay the bills.

An out-of-town volunteer has come to Kitimat to build them a website.

“The public sees what the situation we’re having…it’s difficult for us to get the word out to the same degree that Enbridge can, and so that’s why they’re coming to us and giving us donations, giving money in our hands,” said Minchin.

Thankfully for the group the donations from their members and the public are keeping pace with their advertising plans, said Minchin.

“The first full page ad was paid for by someone in our group, and we didn’t have the money to cover it in the bank at the time but she said ‘no, we need to do this,’” he added.

Whether it’s the advertising or people’s existing opinions, from their perspective the community is mostly on their side.

“People are saying really strong nos. They’re saying yes at times, ‘but…’,” said Lange. “There’s strong yes’s too, but definitely there’s more nos.”

One of the most surprising things however is how open people are of their opinions when they go door-knocking. Not many people will withhold their opinions.

Once the campaign wraps up, they say the group has plans to disclose their spending on their campaign.

The time put in to volunteering in this effort has been extensive. Minchin said that when he’s not at work, he’s at Channel Watch meetings or responding to numerous e-mails and interview requests.

Lange says it’s the same way for her. She might be exhausted at the end of the day, but people’s support is what helps energize her.

As they strive to keep the group local, they also stand strong to their beliefs that they are not a radical group that will use big shows of display or protest to make a point.

“Douglas Channel Watch has always been respectful of the process, respectful of all others,” said Murray, noting reporters have called them asking what they plan to do at events like Enbridge open houses, trying to pump them up, said Minchin.

The group won’t take the bait though.

“It’s just not who we are.”

Lange made sure to mention that Douglas Channel Watch isn’t against job creation or development, but sustainability is key.

“Other things people say is they like that there’s opportunity for family to be together in Kitimat. And I feel the same way, I don’t want to say ‘lets go back to horse and wagon.’ We want progress, we want sustainable development.”

As for the plebiscite result itself, Lange said it will be a chance to send a message.

“It feels like there’s a chance to send a message….If we say no, that sends a message to the rest of the country and hopefully to Ottawa.”