This Article is part of the Tar Sands Reporting Project special report See the full report

Harper government pressured to reject Northern Gateway after Kitimat defeat

Canada's new Natural Resources Minister must decide before mid-June if the Northern Gateway project goes forward.

Prime Minister Harper and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford - federal government photo

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his new Natural Resources Minister, Greg Rickford, are facing growing calls to reject the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline, after the project was defeated in a critical Kitimat plebiscite vote Saturday.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, said the $6.5 billion project no longer has social license.

"Enbridge should listen, the Conservatives should listen," said Cullen Saturday night in Kitimat, shortly after announcing the vote's outcome to an ecstatic crowd in the street.  

"They say in politics, money always wins, but not this time. The people did," he said. "Despite signs, despite people saying no, this company just keeps plowing ahead.  I am sure they will, I am sure they will spin it.  I know we're on the right side of history," added Cullen.

The Harper government must decide if the project should go forward within six months of the Joint Panel Review -- that would give the cabinet until mid-June.

Northern Gateway pipeline still under review

Minister Rickford could not be reached for comment, but his Ottawa-based press secretary told the Vancouver Observer on Sunday:

"We have been clear the projects will only proceed if they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment."
 
The spokesperson said Rickford is still reviewing the independent Joint Review Panel report, recommending that Northern Gateway be approved with 209 conditions.
 
Although the pipeline has some First Nations invested in it as equity partners, overall, Aboriginal opposition to Northern Gateway has been fierce.
 

Speaking with a megaphone in hand, Former Haisla chief Gerald Amos told the crowd gathered in Kitimat on Saturday that Ottawa has not been listening to the will of the people.

"I think Enbridge and the government really don't understand what happened here tonight.  But I think all of us [here in the crowd] do.  Not just in this community of Kitimat, but in the entire northwest -- Terrace, Prince Rupert, Smithers, all points east."

"What we witnessed was a community building exercise that should scare the shit out of them," said Amos, to loud applause and laughter.

Coastal First Nations leader Art Sterritt said recently that approving the pipeline would be disastrous for federal Conservative MPs in British Columbia.  He said images of protesters blocking the pipeline's construction would not look good for the Conservatives during the next election. 

“Hundreds of people call me asking, ‘where do we go to stand in front of the bulldozers to stop Northern Gateway?’" Sterritt said last month.

Greg Rickford, who was sworn in as Natural Resources Minister on March 19, has not yet visited British Columbia since taking over the portfolio from Joe Oliver.

But he told a Montreal crowd on Friday that export-resource projects are critical to growing Canada's economy.

"I propose that we look at the opportunities that an evolving global market offers us: in particular, the benefits across Canada of expanding and diversifying export markets for our natural resources," said Rickford in a speech. 

Janet Holder Enbridge Northern Gateway Open House Kitimat April 8 2014 Mychaylo
Enbridge Northern Gateway vice president of western access, Janet Holder, at an open house in Kitimat. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa 

Enbridge not giving up despite "no" vote

Enbridge released a statement that it will continue to push the project, despite the company's loss in a high-stakes campaign.

"Over the coming weeks and months we will continue to reach out and listen to our neighbours and friends so that Northern Gateway can build a lasting legacy for the people of our community," wrote Donny van Dyk, Northern Gateway's Manager of Coastal Aboriginal and Community Relations, minutes after the plebiscite outcome was revealed.

Controversially, the company was not restricted in its spending during its two-month campaign to sway voters in Kitimat.  Enbridge bought full-page newspaper ads, aired commercials on TV and radio, and sent staff canvassing door-to-door.

Accounting for how much it spent on general promotion of Northern Gateway versus what it says it spent on the Kitimat plebiscite, Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht said Sunday:

"I can confirm we have spent approximately $6,500 on print ads and $3,100 on radio advertisements." 
 

Cullen, meanwhile, said Northern Gateway has likely spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing its pipeline. The company aired TV commercials -- showing aerial sweeps on beautiful coastal forests -- on CBC during the Sochi Olympics, for example.

He said during his "Take Back the Coast" tour against the pipeline proposal last month that Conservative candidates would likely pay a political price if Northern Gateway is approved despite strong opposition in northern BC. 

Read More:

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.