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With Keystone shelved, Northern Gateway must not go ahead

14 November, 2011

Throughout the debate about whether the Keystone XL Pipeline should be built, industry proponents have argued that if the tarsands bitumen doesn’t go to Texas, it will be shipped to Asia through Canada.  So, with the Keystone XL Pipeline on hold until after the 2012 election, industry’s eyes are turning to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which proposes to take bitumen from the Tarsands to Kitimat, and load it onto oil tankers. 

We agree with our colleagues at other groups, like Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence, that suggest that Prime Minister Harper could learn from the example of President Obama – and take an open-minded look at the advisability of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, and the expansion of the Tarsands. 

However, regardless of the Canadian government’s approach to the pipeline, we are confident that this pipeline – and the associated oil tanker traffic – will not proceed in BC, for many reasons

Back in May some said that the election of the current Canadian government, which was opposed to a ban on oil tanker traffic, meant that this issue was dead.  As industry pins its hopes on the Northern Gateway Pipeline, we repeat what we said then

[First Nations] declarations [against tankers and the pipelines] are made using the laws and decision-making authority of each First Nation, embedded in their distinct governance structures and millennia-old systems. Indigenous laws continue to exist and to operate on the land, and they have never gone away, despite Canada coming into existence. The right of First Nations to make decisions about their own lands and waters – and the obligation of governments to respect them – are recognized in international law. In Canadian law, these declarations are an exercise of the constitutionally-protected Aboriginal Title over the lands and waters of their territories. The decisions made by the Coastal First Nations, and the Nations of the Fraser watershed such as those in the Yinka Dene Alliance, mean that any project to bring crude oil through the north of BC will be highly vulnerable to enforcement action grounded in each First Nation’s laws. They also make it highly likely, among other reasons, that any decision taken by the Canadian government to approve oil pipelines and tankers will face serious legal challenges in the courts. It is doubtful that Enbridge, its investors and its financiers will be able to avoid facing these risks.

Legal talk aside, the deep power of people – of Indigenous people and their neighbours, standing side-by-side – will be the wall that these dangerous proposals can’t push through. Using their legal powers, using their political strength, and using their endless creativity. From the Rockies to the coast, it is people who will protect the rivers, people who will protect the land, people who will protect the Great Bear Rainforest, and people who will protect the coast and the waters of the ocean. There are many other issues of concern to all British Columbians, and we will have to all work hard and to be vigilant whether we care about environmental justice, social justice, health care, and a hundred other issues combined. And on the issue of protecting the coast from oil tankers, we will continue to do our work and we will continue to have hope – and conviction – that we can do this.

If the Keystone XL decision demonstrates anything, it’s that the government is accountable to the people, and that a groundswell of public opposition often is the best way to protect the environment, and our global atmosphere, from irresponsible development. 

By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer