Standing in front of a drawing of Prime Minister Stephen Harper shredding up a document, NDP Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen assured that the Tories would pay a heavy price for supporting the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
"The path to majority for the Conservatives is gone without this province," Cullen said.
"Imagine if in 18 months this issue is on the ballot. Imagine if people go to the polls thinking about how this government that has done everything to facilitate and encourage this [Enbridge] pipeline... I think we can take back our coast, I think we can take back our country," he said, to cheers and applause.
Photo by Jenny Uechi
A large group of people packed into UBC Robson Square to listen to Cullen's 'Take Back the Coast' tour, which has taken Cullen to six different cities across BC so far. High school and university students, as well as seniors, were at the edge of their seats, listening to Cullen's arguments about why the Northern Gateway pipeline was so heavily opposed in BC. Although the pipeline has some support in the province, a recent poll found over two-thirds of British Columbians opposed to the project.
Cullen talked about Enbridge's own estimates of a major bitumen spill within the next fifty years if the pipeline were built (about 9 per cent) and the impossibility of dredging a river as deep as the Skeena in the event of a leak.
He also stressed that people who expected First Nations' lawsuits alone to stop the pipeline were mistaken, and that non-First Nations needed to actively pitch in to help. He said the public needed to understand the gravity of legal challenges by First Nations against the government, since if they lose, they would be saddled with the responsibility of paying the fees of expensive government lawyers as well.
Energy East: a thorny issue
One question that lingered throughout the successful event was why the federal NDP was opposed to the controversial Northern Gateway, yet supportive of a larger pipeline project to carry diluted bitumen to eastern Canada. One audience member grilled Cullen about NDP leader Thomas Mulcair's support of Energy East, the proposed $12 billion pipeline to bring bitumen from Alberta to Quebec.
"The NDP supports the dirty, toxic tar sands, and the pipeline (Energy East) that goes all across Canada from west to east," a man with grey, long, curly hair said loudly at one point, disrupting Cullen's presentation.
As audience members tried to quiet him down and accused him of derailing the conversation, he shot back defensively at the crowd:
"It's all connected -- it's about tar sands expansion. Do you all know about the (Energy East) pipeline?"
Heads nodded emphatically throughout the room. Yes, people were aware, but they wanted to keep focused on Northern Gateway, they indicated.
When Cullen responded to the Vancouver Observer's interview request before the event, he did not speak negatively about Energy East, but talked mainly about the process of consultation.
"The process for Enbridge Northern has been terrible -- the disrespect toward First Nations and communities," he said. "As for the larger question of what we do with energy…oil is a part of our present economy. The principle of exporting raw bitumen is the worst of both worlds. We have to pick up the environmental costs and reap very little of the [environmental] and employment benefits. So it (energy) is a huge issue -- it's a global issue. Ask Europe about what that's like when you're dealing with Russia."
He also spoke about having a "reliable source of energy" and "maximizing what benefits are available." Cullen emphasized that the NDP would put in more environmental regulations and place accountability on polluting companies, and stop the 'bonanza' of oil extraction under the current Conservative government.
Bigger than Clayoquot Sound
After Cullen finished speaking, several other speakers took the stage to share their experiences in organizing against large industrial projects. One of them was ForestEthics BC forest campaign director Valerie Langer, who told the story of how the largest civil disobedience campaign stopped a major logging company at Clayoquot Sound.
"Take note. My sense is that there's a burgeoning movement that's much bigger than Clayoquot sound. Much bigger. And more dispersed -- it's all across the country and all across the province," Langer said.
Alisdair Smith, a reverend at Christ Church Cathedral, said the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was being discussed by the community at his church, as well. He said although the church does not take a position on the pipeline, a faith community ranging from politicians to the homeless was taking an active interest in Enbridge Northern Gateway.
"I see a really important shift in the zeitgeist," he said. "The people are not asleep on this issue."