After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

The Great Wall of Gateway: a citizens' vote promised to kill Enbridge pipeline

Expect a Citizens' Initiative vote in B.C. to force government to kill Northern Gateway, if feds approve it on Tuesday.

Great Wall of Gateway: Dogwood, Coastal First Nations, Unifor, Enviromental Law
Press conference Dogwood Coastal First Nations Unifor West Coast Environmental
Clockwise from top left: Dogwood Initiative exec. director Will Horter; Coastal First Nations director Art Sterritt; West Coast Environmental Law exec. director Jessica Clogg; Unifor B.C. Area Director Gavin McGarrigle - Vancouver press conference Monday - Photos by Mychaylo Prystupa

On the eve of the Prime Minister’s decision on Northern Gateway, a wall of B.C. groups opposed to the oil sands pipeline presented a united ultimatum on Monday: pass the controversial $6.5 billion project, and expect a citizens’ vote in B.C. in September to kill it.

“This is about democracy,” said Will Horter, executive director of Dogwood Initiative.

“We’ve got 130 First Nations who are saying ‘no way José – we don’t want this project.’ 

“We’ve got two out of three British Columbians [against],” said the environmental advocate, at a Vancouver press conference.

“Yet we’re poised upon a decision where we’re questioning whether or not our federal government is going to force this project on us with an approval tomorrow or later today,” he added.

So Horter and a coalition of enviro, Aboriginal, citizen and legal advocate groups are now preparing to launch a rarely used legal tool to force a province-wide vote on Northern Gateway if the federal government passes it, and Premier Clark does not stand in the way.

“We hope that she will live up to that commitment, but if she doesn’t, we have this unique tool in British Columbia called the citizens’ initiative.“

Also appearing at the press conference were leaders from Unifor, Coastal First Nations, West Coast Environmental Law Association, Douglas Channel Watch, and a citizens' group called One Cowichan.

Great Wall of Gateway: Dogwood, Coastal First Nations, Unifor, Enviromental Law

Press conference in Vancouver on Monday with groups opposed to Northern Gateway - photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

The "citizens' initiative" is the same tool that was used successfully to kill the Liberal government’s Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in 2010. 

The political pressure led to a reinstatement of the PST, and to the eventual resignation of Premier Gordon Campbell.

The current B.C. Premier - Christy Clark - said today:

"Well I think if there's a referendum - that's up to them, the public, to decide.  So I'll let that unfold as it may.  It's not for me to interfere in a public referendum process."

"[But] on the five conditions, none of the proposals have met the five conditions yet.  And therefore none of them would be approved by the Province of British Columbia."

"Enbridge has not met them yet, and they need to if they will be approved by our province," said Clark, in a media scrum Monday.

An Enbridge communications manager told the Vancouver Observer that he expects the federal decision will be made from Ottawa on Tuesday.

Democratic Insurance Policy

Described as a “democratic insurance policy” -- a citizens’ initiative has been applied for just nine times in the past.  The HST vote was the only successful one. 

If more than 50% of B.C. voters pass a citizens’ initiative vote in at least two-thirds of electoral districts, a law must be introduced into the legislature.  The House ultimately decides whether to make it law.

A campaign website, called "Let BC Vote" -- shows more than 150,000 people have signed on board.

The next opportunity to have a vote is September 27, 2014, according to Elections BC.

Patricia Lange - Douglas Channel Watch - Mychaylo Prystupa

Kitimat citizen, Patricia Lange with Douglas Channel Watch - Mychaylo Prystupa

Patricia Lange, of Douglas Channel Watch, knows a thing or two about citizen votes.  Her northwest BC coastal community of Kitimat voted 59% in opposition to the Northern Gateway project in an April plebiscite.

"Enbridge came into our community and swept it like a SWAT team," she said.  "They had bottomless pits of savvy marketing schemes, and we started out with $200 in the bank."

More in News

Views from a refugee camp: Who gets into heaven?

I have just returned to Vancouver Island from Greek refugee camps where I met a Yazidi man named Jason who told me about his escape from ISIS in Iraq.   His story begins on a desert road where a...

Vancouver's bicycle sharing grows as 15 new stations installed

Mobi bicycle by Shaw Go in Vancouver. Photo by Christopher Porter from Flickr Creative Commons

International Women's Day Concert celebrates female musicians who turned tragedy into triumph

Every March 8, on International Women's Day, we hear about the achievements of brilliant, talented women around the world. But how often do we learn about the physical and mental disabilities or...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.