Coastal communities are on the front lines of climate change. For those who live on the narrow peninsula that leads to Tofino on the west coast of B.C.’s Vancouver Island, the prospect of rising sea levels has an immediacy that tends to incite action. That’s one reason why the prospect of seeing a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic coming within 50 kilometres of the beloved beaches of the Pacific Rim has mobilized the communities there to take creative action to stop the pipeline that would supply the ships.
This Earth Day, April 22, local businesses in B.C. are banding together against Kinder Morgan’s contentious Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline. Tofino companies are offering tours, selling microbrews, encouraging people to “surf for salmon” and serving up a taste of the coastal bounty that draws millions of tourists to the region every year. The aim? To pitch towards raising $500,000 for legal challenges launched by the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Coldwater First Nations that aim to stop Kinder Morgan. It is the same strategy that killed the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
On Saturday, outdoor adventure companies are offering tours of the rugged west coast with revenue going to the Pull Together campaign. Remote Passages Excursions, Clayoquot Wild! and Jamie’s Whaling Station are all donating Earth Day proceeds, while surfing school Pacific Surf Co is hosting a “Surf for the Salmon!” event. The Tofino Brewing Company and Common Loaf Bake shop are also giving a share of Earth Day earnings in support of the “Tofino Pulls Together” legal fundraising efforts. Clayoquot Action are also hosting a benefit screening of the documentary Planetary on April 22 at the Clayoquot Community Theatre.
It’s not radical to oppose a pipeline in a community whose existence is palpably threatened by climate change, but it’s still extraordinary to note the level of consensus against the Kinder Morgan project in this former logging boom town.
The Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce has been a vocal opponent of the plan to bring tar sands tankers to Canada’s west coast. The chamber was an intervenor in the National Energy Board process, stating, “We were unconvinced during the NEB process, and remain unconvinced that either level of government could adequately deal with an oil spill.”
“It’s not an acceptable risk for us to take in the [chamber] board’s opinion,” explains chamber president Jennifer Steven. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was happy to be photographed frolicking on Long Beach last summer but, says Steven, “he, more than anyone, should know how vulnerable this area would be to an oil spill and how much we stand to lose with an economy primarily based on tourism. A spill or tanker accident would devastate our coast and our tourism economy along with it.”
Tough town punches above its weight
First Nations, municipalities, unions and advocacy organizations in B.C. are increasingly joining progressive businesses in taking a leadership role to protect the economic drivers — such as tourism, the film industry and real estate — that will be put at risk by a tar sands pipeline. Conversations for Responsible Economic Development, which describes itself as a “fiercely pro-business and pro-economic development” research organization, has issued reports calling into question the business case for the Kinder Morgan project. CRED argues that technology, tourism, construction, film and television industries each create more jobs in B.C. than oil, gas, and mining combined.
Bonny Glambeck of Clayoquot Action knows all too well what that devastation looks like. "I’m a long time west coast resident," Glambeck explains when reached by telephone. "I was involved in helping with an oil spill clean-up in 1989, when the Nestucca spill hit Long Beach. I’ve lived through a Tofino oil spill before. It had a horrendous impact on our local communities, on the local ecosystem and on the animals."
People still remember the iconic image of Valerie Langer from that era, standing in a yellow rain slicker, an oil-soaked seabird dripping on the red carpet of the B.C. legislature lobby.
Despite the brave efforts of hundreds of local volunteers, the clean-up from the Nestucca spill was compromised by winter storms, huge waves, a remote and inaccessible coastline, and delays caused by conflicts over who would pay for the clean-up. These bureaucratic snafus remained in evidence during last November’s Kirby diesel spill from the sinking of the Nathan E. Stewart in Bella Bella off the B.C. coast, where local Heiltsuk First Nation crews led the response in the absence of a coordinated and effective spill-response protocol.
With Kinder Morgan’s tanker traffic coming so close to Tofino’s beaches and coastline, locals point out that the West Coast remains a blind-spot in the government’s spill response strategies. “Currently, Tofino and the west coast of Vancouver Island lie outside the spill response area for the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” says Stephen. “Despite that fact, our remote community would be on the front line in the event of a tanker accident.”
These threats come after decades of hard fighting by a community dedicated to protecting the environment. Past efforts have famously halted old-growth logging and transformed Clayoquot Sound into a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. First Nations are leading fights against fish farms and a proposed open pit copper mine.
Tofino’s residents continue to earn it the affectionate monicker, “Tough City.” And their efforts are paying off.
Tourism an economic driver for B.C.
“Some things have changed in Clayoquot Sound since 1989,” says Glambeck. “Sea otters, not seen in the Sound since the early 1900s, have returned. So have humpback whales. Eco-tourism has flourished and become an economic tour de force. There’s one thing that hasn’t changed: people around the world still feel a deep love for this place.”
“Tofino has large intact natural landscapes and world-class beaches that people travel to from all over the world,” continues Glambeck. “We’re an economic driver for Vancouver Island and coastal B.C. We’re globally known and bring people here because they’ve heard of Tofino and Clayoquot Sound.”
Clayoquot Sound will also ring bells around the country for another reason: the “War in the Woods” in the 1990s was the one of the largest civil disobedience campaigns in Canada’s history.
So, when Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs put out a call for supporters to stand with the Tsleil-Waututh during protest actions against drilling by Kinder Morgan on Burnaby Mountain in 2015, residents of Tough City stepped up. Glambeck hopped on a bus and took a ferry to the mainland with a crew of seasoned west coast activists to participate in the civil disobedience protests. Glambeck was arrested with dozens of others, and continues to lead non-violent direct action trainings in anticipation of being called on again to challenge Kinder Morgan.
But for now, funding legal challenges are the most strategic way to stop Kinder Morgan, so Glambeck is putting her considerable energy into the Pull Together campaign.
Communities united against an oil giant
Tofino’s efforts are part of a spreading wave of businesses across B.C. taking action against Kinder Morgan. In Vancouver, Lebanese tapas restaurant Jam Jar just donated proceeds from meals served at both of their locations to Pull Together. Bandidas Taqueria is hosting an art show and fundraiser at their Commercial Drive restaurant April 22, the same day an annual Earth Day parade takes over that East Vancouver street. Bandidas will be joined by Earnest Ice Cream’s Scoop Truck from noon to 3 p.m., with workshops by Fresh Roots, plant giveaways by the Environmental Youth Alliance and DJs spinning late into the night.
Not in Tofino or Vancouver? You can still donate to Pull Together on Earth Day. Every dollar donated will be doubled by an anonymous donor.