Victory over Enbridge celebrated in Kitimat (NEW VIDEO)
"Despite all the money, and all the cynicism and bullying that's been going on here, people got together," MP Nathan Cullen said, as people celebrated Kitimat's vote against Northern Gateway.
Will Northern Gateway proceed, or will it be halted? The Kitimat plebiscite on Saturday was an important and emotional moment in answering that question.
Had the vote gone in Enbridge's favour, the company would likely have claimed an important advance in social licence, for an otherwise highly controversial project.
But the vote was clear, and opponents celebrated. Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, said he was "overwhelmed" after nearly 60 per cent of Kitimat residents voted 'no' to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline vote in Kitimat on Saturday.
"Despite all the money, and all the cynicism and bullying that's been going on here, people got together -- native, non-native, neighbour to neighbour -- and raised their voices tonight," said Cullen, who was interrupted by cars driving by, honking and cheering.
"It doesn't get much more grassroots than this," he smiled, as people sang and beat drums in the background.
Several northern B.C. municipal governments -- Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers -- had already passed resolutions opposing Northern Gateway. Additionally, many First Nations bands as well as regional aboriginal groups have long opposed it too.
But Kitimat's district government did not take a stand. The council initially flirted with hiring IPSOS-Reid to poll the residents, but that was rejected. So a two-month plebiscite campaign ensued.
In that battle, Northern Gateway sent company staff canvassing door-to-door, and held open houses to answer questions about its project.
Photo of Enbridge canvassers - provided by Kitimat resident, Manny Arruda
Enbridge now claims it actually spent less on advertising than its main opposition group, the Douglas Channel Watch.
"I can confirm we have spent approximately $6,500 on print ads and $3,100 on radio advertisements,' said Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht on Sunday.
Others though, like Nathan Cullen, said the company's spending is much higher than that.
Likely complicating the accounting was that Enbridge has been engaged in marketing and communications to sway all of British Columbia for several years. It purchased pricey, prime-time TV commercials on CBC during the Sochi Olympics, for example.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford - government photo
The Harper cabinet must soon decide before mid-June if the project will go forward. Many expect the resource-development-friendly government to pass it.
Natural Resource Minister Greg Rickford could not be reached for comment, but his Ottawa-based press secretary told the Vancouver Observer on Sunday:
Photo of Northern Gateway supporter at a Kitimat open house -- Mychaylo Prystupa
“There’s not much we can do in B.C. to influence the decision of the federal cabinet on Northern Gateway," said Kai Nagata, the Energy & Democracy Director for the Dogwood Initiative, earlier this month.
“I think there’s a clear public perception that the B.C. government has rejected this pipeline, and to support it would be a betrayal of the principles set out by the government over the last two years," he added.
The controversial project would bring 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen from Alberta across northern B.C. to Kitimat, where the product would be shipped to the U.S. and Asia.
But opponents of the pipeline proposal had pushed back, stressing the potential damage of a bitumen spill in remote stretches of rugged mountain stretches, as well as in the Douglas Channel, which is home to a wide range of marine wildlife, including sea lions and whales.
The vote in Kitimat is non-binding, and Enbridge has said it will work harder to win support for the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
There are media reports the company is now increasing the amount of money it is offering First Nations bands.
Photo of sea lions on an island in the Douglas Channel -- Mychaylo Prystupa
Photo of "Yes" and "No" signs -- Mychaylo Prystupa