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Harper government okays Northern Gateway, over intense BC opposition

Aboriginal, northern, environmental and citizens groups are now gearing up for intense legal and protest actions to stop the pipeline, despite its federal approval.

Stephen Harper and Greg Rickford - PMO photo
Great Wall of Gateway - groups opposed to Northern Gateway - Mychaylo Prystupa
Natural Resource Minister Greg Rickford - Mychaylo Prystupa
Natural Resource Minister Greg Rickford in Vancouver last week -- Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

The federal government has just approved the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline today.

In one of the most highly anticipated industrial decisions in decades, Ottawa made the announcement via a press release Tuesday afternoon.  

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford wrote in a news statement: "The Northern Gateway pipeline has been approved, subject to 209 conditions." 

He added that the pipeline was in the "national interest", despite strong dissent from British Columbian citizens. 

"Severe" protests expected

NDP federal leader Thomas Mulcair slammed the decision, saying, 
"It was approved over three years ago. This is the reflection of someone (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) who decides everything in advance." He said he would "set aside" and "reverse" the pipeline approval if the NDP were elected to power in 2015.

The 1,177-kilometre pipeline would bring 520,000 barrels of oil sands bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, BC, for shipment to Asian and U.S. markets. It has been fiercely opposed by Northern BC residents and a coalition of over 130 First Nations. 

Mulcair said BC can expect severe protests to take place. A series of large demonstrations today are expected to take place this afternoon in Vancouver and northern BC.

“We’re talking about a severe threat to social order, social peace.”

He also criticized the Harper government for not putting up any federal representatives on this key decision.  He said the Conservative government -- particularly in B.C. -- will pay for that in the next election.

“That’s why more than 20 MPs in British Columbia are hiding under their desk right now,” he said. 

NDP MP Nathan Cullen from the Skeena-Bulkley Valley in Northern BC, the region most directly affected by the pipeline and tankers, denounced the way in which the federal government made the big announcement. 

"It was just stupid -- a two page press release," he said. "Northern Gateway exports all the jobs and leaves British Columbians with all the environmental liability. It's a dumb way to develop a country. Certainly, nothing will happen between now and 2015, and that's going to be the next opportunity for voters in BC to make up their minds." 

"No economic sense" 

Green Party leader Elizabeth May ridiculed the federal government, holding up a glass jar of bitumen in front of reporters.  

"This is raw bitumen. It's solid," she said. "Why is any of this needed? Because we don't want to build infrastructure -- upgraders to to refine the oil." 

"This is not a project that makes economic sense. It's not in Canada's economic interests, not at all." 

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau criticized the Harper government for labelling Northern Gateway pipeline critics as 'radicals' and said companies need to reassure Canadians that their projects will not “imperil [Canada] in the long term.”

When pressed if a Liberal government would stop any oil sands pipelines out of Alberta, he said he supported Keystone XL.

On CBC's Power and Politics, host Evan Solomon asked why no Conservative representative was available for comment either before or after the decision. "There are a pile of questions we'd like to ask the government, but we're not able to today," he said. 

A bright red light

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said there was a "bright red light" in British Columbia that would halt the project, and that First Nations were prepared to take legal action and "whatever it takes" to stop the project. 

He called on people to gather outside the CBC building on Hamilton Street in downtown Vancouver at 5:30 p.m. on the day of the announcement. He said on Monday that an approval of the project would "poison" relations between federal government and BC's First Nations, the majority of whom have opposed the project. 

UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip - Photo by Zack Embree

Photo of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip by Zack Embree

Yesterday, a coalition of First Nations, citizens, environmentalists and labour unions announced that it would push for a "citizens' initiative" referendum to kill the Northern Gateway pipeline, in the same way that the Liberal government’s Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) was killed in 2010. Premier Christy Clark has said she is open to letting the public decide. 

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