Kitimat recently held it’s second round of Joint Review Panel hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Monday and Tuesday. The JRP gave local residents 10 minutes each to voice their opinions on the project, with roughly 50 people speaking over the two days. The response from citizens was an overwhelming no, with the majority of speakers in opposition to the project. Despite the vast economic gain the pipeline could bring to the region locals feel the risk is not worth the reward. Their sentiments echoed throughout the hearings was that it takes only one major oil spill to cause irreversible environmental damage to the region.
“The number one thing people want to talk about is potential for spill. We can not underestimate the costs of a spill in this region and the environmental and economic impacts,” says NDP Environmental Critic and Halifax MP Megan Leslie, one of many political dignitaries attending the hearings.
The JRP speakers came from a variety of generations and cultural backgrounds, and a number of them had to fight back tears when describing this land the seems to invigorate and revitalize their body, mind and soul. The NDP leaders on hand were taken aback by their stories. Words like authentic, truthful, emotional and eloquent immediately came to the fore in describing their testimonies.
“Listening to some of the testimony coming out of the JRP, it was particularly moving. The different perspectives from a young environmental activist, a grandfather, a First Nations leader, these people are unafraid,” says Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen. “This is unusual for Canadians, to express their emotions publicly. It’s because so much is at risk, these folks were so honest in the face of so much cynicism in the face of the government and the oil companies.”
Former EuroCan Engineer Terry Brown, one of Monday’s speakers, re-iterated the fact that it’s inevitable that an accident will happen and eventually a pipe or gasket will fail. He recalled one major project at the mill that had nearly a dozen failures within the first couple years.
A number of influential people from both Enbridge and the New Democratic Party, official opposition to the Harper Government, were in Kitimat for the hearings. Enbridge Executive Vice President of Western Access Janet Holder and Spokesmen for the NGPP Paul Stanway were on hand. In opposition, Cullen played host to NDP colleagues including Leslie and provincial MPs Fin Donnelly , Alex Atamanenko, and Randall Garrison.
It was Leslie’s first trip to BC’s West Coast and she was overwhelmed by the sense of place and the connection to the land citizens have here. “Our leader Tom Mulcair went to the oilsands last month to see for himself what’s happening there and I had the privilege of being on that trip, so it seems only appropriate to come here to BC’s Northern Coast to see first hand the proposed pipeline route,” says Leslie. “Being here it’s a little chilling, it’s amazing how people care about this project and stopping it because of the possible impacts and outcomes. It’s all negative what they see, whether it’s their livelihoods, economic stability, thier access to salmon and clean water, everybody has a personal story about this pipeline and it’s inspiring and a little overwhelming to see how unified everybody is, It’s wonderful.”
After attending the JRP hearings the NDP leaders held a Public Forum at the Best Western Hotel in Terrace Tuesday evening, followed by a boat tour of the proposed tanker route Wednesday morning.
“We’re going to get out on the water and look at some of the route that Enbridge is proposing and the places that will be put at risk. This has always been a land and ocean story,” says Cullen. “It will give us a better idea of the threats posed to our rivers and land and what impacts will be felt on the water and the people there.”
Recent events such as the Enbridge oil spill near Elk Point, AB on June 18 have raised further red flags regarding the safety of the NGPP. “We’ve had a number of spills in Canada in the past few months, and people have been talking about their serious concerns about spills here and pipeline safety,” says Leslie. “We’re here today to be in solidarity with Canadians who are opposed to this pipeline. We’re here to listen to them, we’re here to talk to them.”
Recent Enbridge press releases claim they have secured support of 60 percent native partnerships in equity-sharing deals. The NDP leaders are skeptical to say the least of these statistics, despite the chance these First Nations partners could be reluctant to go public with their support.
“It’s a lie, and it really undermines the pipleines efforts. They continue to try to spin and insult First Nations while saying they want to respect First Nations, it’s ironic and tragic,” says Cullen. “You go to the First Nations and say ‘who signed up?’ and can’t find anybody.”
The NDP leaders were adamantly criticizing a new boldness with Harper and the Conservative government, who have been backing the pipeline since days one. It seems the only thing standing in the way of this pipeline is the public opinion of BC residents.
“It seems like there’s a new double speak out of Ottawa and there’s a boldness to this new majority government. There’s an arrogance that’s even disturbing conservative voters. Some are saying this is not my Canada and not what I support,” says Donnelly. “Hearing people talking passionately about their place and the economy they want to see supported, like the salmon, feel that this economic proposal is going to threaten their way of life and the kind of economy they want to build. We want to support them.”
Enbridge representatives were unavailable for comment at press time.