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Harper Approving the Northern Gateway Pipeline Should Surprise No One

The Harper government approved the construction of the dual Northern Gateway pipelines yesterday, but the Feds and Enbridge are far from stepping on the gas.

Photo via Tomas Borsa and JP Marquis.
There were three options the Conservatives could have gone with on Tuesday in regards to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline: “yes,” “no,” or “umm, give us a bit more time to reflect.”

They unsurprisingly went with the first option, and approved the construction of the dual pipeline pending it meets 209 dubious conditions set out by the equally dubious National Energy Board—an organization that with every one of these familiar decisions further clarifies itself as a swindle, designed to look like a regulator that in actuality facilitates big oil and the Conservative’s energy ambitions.


If pushed through, Northern Gateway will see the transportation of over half a million-barrels-per day of diluted tar sands bitumen traverse the Rockies and cut through the heart of British Columbia, to finally funnel into Kitimat (where they’ve already voted against it) and onto 225 tankers a year headed precariously through fragile Pacific coast inlets and westbound to Asia.

Meanwhile, Enbridge is touting the economic benefits of the pipeline by throwing out numbers such as: $270 billion dollars towards Canada’s GDP over the next 30 years and $81 billion towards government coffers. Yet these debatable, astronomical revenue figures will still only create—their number—560 long-term jobs.

While plenty of good ol’ boy Albertans, multinational stakeholders, energy lobbyists, and Conservatives from China to Fort McMurray to Ottawa will have raised a few glasses Tuesday night, toasting the money they’ve dug out of the ground, BC’s notoriously strong environmental groups and First Nations were in attack mode Tuesday afternoon, and British Columbians were already taking to the streets of Vancouver. Some blocked downtown traffic, with the message that whatever greenlight the Conservatives have lit is merely symbolic; to put shovels in the ground will be an entirely different fight that’s not contained to lawyer’s offices and Parliament Hill, but brought to the lines of the proposed pipes themselves.


Tomas Borsa has been observing the Northern Gateway debate for years. Along with Jean-Philippe Marquis, their documentary and multimedia project Line in the Sand has brought them to the most potentially affected areas, and into contact with some of the more particularly active individuals along Northern Gateway’s proposed route. I got in touch with Tomas last night, and asked him about what he thought was in store for Northern Gateway resistance:

“At the most extreme end, industrial sabotage is a real possibility... by that I mean tree spikings. It could be targeting construction vehicles, it could be targeting pipeline infrastructure at critical weak points like pump stations. Throughout Canadian history, that’s certainly not unprecedented, if you think of Wiebo Ludwig. Even worse than that, the absolute worse case scenario as I can see this, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip is the first person that I think said it on record, but this could spill over into an event in the vein of Oka or Ipperwash.

And this time of course, the difference is it’s not one or two First Nations caught off guard by a relatively benign development proposal… Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with people who have absolutely committed themselves to stopping this pipeline from going ahead. Even if it means dying.”

Beyond environmental groups and First Nations, Enbridge and the Tories also face some serious opposition from the Provincial Government of BC itself. Somewhat contradictorily (as Christie Clark wants to push her own Liquefied Natural Gas pipelines through ASAP) on Tuesday afternoon BC’s Premier maintained being staunchly against the Enbridge pipelines being built at least as they’re currently planned.

Seeing as two-thirds of British Columbians oppose Northern Gateway, it’s an easy political choice for her to make. Although, with her energy sector background, it’s hard to believe that the adversarial face she’s putting forward is completely authentic. The five conditions BC have set as parameters for the Northern Gateway go-ahead will still be no walk in the woods for Enbridge to live up to.

What’s abundantly clear, after day one of the approval, is that neither Enbridge nor the federal government has done even the smallest amount of appropriate consultation with First Nations or other communities whose land lies along the route of the pipeline to simply go ahead with the project. And with opposition Liberal and NDP leaders Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair both vowing they’d reverse the pipeline decision if elected, Stephen Harper is stuck with his head in the tar sands.

Hoping to deflect as much criticism from himself and his cabinet as possible, Harper will be relying on Enbridge, not the government, to convince Canadians that a pipeline is in the best interest of the country not only in the short term, but also for years to come. 560 permanent jobs, people! Come on!