Two visions of Canada clash on Burnaby Mountain

Standoff is about more than one pipeline; it’s about our priorities as a country
Benjamin West
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I don’t know how many of you from across the country have been paying close attention to what’s happening in Burnaby, B.C. Proximity, after all, plays a role in what we choose to focus on.

But what’s unfolding there deserves our full attention because the ongoing clash between protesters and police represents more than local concern over the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

It represents the continued capitulation of values and priorities we as a country hold dear to the oil industry’s relentless corporate interests. Most of all, it represents the constant erosion of our democratic rights as citizens by the people we have placed in power to protect said interests in the first place.

The clash in Burnaby isn’t just between anti-pipeline protesters and police. It’s between the vision for this country that is being pushed by corporate and state powers and what we as citizens are increasingly choosing to reject.

Since Thursday over 80 people (including an 11-year-old girl) have been arrested, after the RCMP began enforcing a court injunction ordering protesters to clear a pair of work sites on Burnaby Mountain, where Kinder Morgan was conducting drilling and survey work related to the proposed expansion.

Anti-pipeline activists set up camp on Burnaby Mountain in September, attempting to block Kinder Morgan crews from accessing the area, but the company obtained a court injunction ordering the protesters to leave.

The City of Burnaby responded by filing a lawsuit to prevent Kinder Morgan from cutting down trees and damaging parkland, though the National Energy Board (the regulatory federal body responsible for the approval of pipeline developments over 400 kilometres long) ruled the company does not need the City’s permission to conduct its survey work. Think about that for a minute. An oil company doesn’t need the permission of the city its pipeline cuts through. What a bizarre, ethically bankrupt world we live in when self-serving corporate interests override a community’s well-being.

The City is rightfully challenging that ruling in the Court of Appeal.

If the expansion is approved by the NEB, it would increase the capacity of the overall Trans Mountain pipeline system from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000, drastically increasing the number of oil tankers moving through Burrard Inlet and inevitably magnifying the risk of a devastating spill and environmental contamination.

The City of Burnaby is steadfastly against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and has made its opposition very clear to the NEB, the federal government and Kinder Morgan.

But thanks to Harper’s omnibus budget Bill C-38, it doesn’t really matter. The NEB gets the final say.

While few Canadians have probably bothered to look closely at omnibus budget bill C-38, its effects are devastating. It is, in fact, largely to blame for these developments, because the bill significantly altered the way environmental assessments are done in this country, drastically limiting public participation in the process and severely restricting what environmental effects can be included as relevant.

As a result, citizens’ concerns were not heard, a number of climate change experts and scientists were not consulted and the extent of the project’s impact on the local environment was severely downplayed or ignored. And despite assurances by Kinder Morgan that the pipeline is safe and poses no real threat, major oil spills have taken place in the past.

I don’t believe in any for-profit corporation’s ability to do the right thing over the most profitable. It’s just not part of the equation. It’s only by relentless civic action and pushback that we stand a chance. Having a government that has pretty much abdicated its role to act as a fiduciary for our future and chooses not to protect our long-term environmental interests in the name of profit is criminal.

I don’t want a government that kowtows to the fuel fossil industry and treats potential short-term and long-time impacts on marine and fish habitats as collateral damage and the price of doing business.

I don’t want a government that ignores climate change, and prioritizes oil sands development over the protection of First Nations lands and the viability of local ecosystems.

I don’t want management from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, with their powerful agendas and extended political reach, devouring everything in their path in their quest for profit and treating Canadians the way BP execs treated Louisiana residents after the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill as “small people.”

Local residents’ lives, concerns and voices don’t matter less because they don’t have political power. They matter more because if this oil spills it will be in their backyards, in their lakes and mountains, polluting their air and homes, seeping into their ground and affecting their children’s health.

I don’t want a government that tells me through legislation that the desires and wants of the oil industry matter more in the court of law than the concerns and wishes of local communities. British Columbians should be allowed to decide whether the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline is in the best interest of their communities, not the other way around.

I don’t want a government that implements a review process that doesn’t allow for consideration of climate change, while the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urges nations to phase out fossil fuels immediately to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

I don’t want a government supporting investment in the expansion of oil extraction and distribution, while ignoring alternative solutions to eventually transition from our oil dependency.

I don’t want a government-funded agency like the NEB remaining quiet while Kinder Morgan has the gall to claim that an oil spill could also reap economic benefits and create jobs for the country. That’s no selling point.

I don’t want a government, a police force and media that dismissively treat protesters as out-of-work tree huggers, while the majority of them are concerned, outraged and educated (many are Simon Fraser University professors) who refuse to see political agendas written by the oil industry.

I’m sick and tired of hearing defenders of pipelines state that those protesting are hypocrites because they drive cars and use petrol products. Yes, we live in a world that depends on oil, but it’s time to put an end to that cycle. And it’s not by defending and supporting the status quo that alternate solutions will be found.

From the Kinder Morgan protests on Burnaby Mountain, to the First Nations legal battle against Enbridge Northern Gateway, all the way to Quebecers’ efforts not to have TransCanada expand its Energy East pipeline in the province, the fight is on.

A few days ago, when Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois donated his $25,000 Governor General’s Literary Award to awareness group Coule pas chez nous and asked Quebecers to match his donation, within 48 hours the total amount had reached $300,000. The reaction wasn’t just Quebecers responding to Nadeau-Dubois’ generosity and conviction, but also sending a clear message: We don’t want this here.

Vulturous, self-serving corporate profits should never override our collective rights as citizens, and if our federal government won’t defend our interests, it’s time to take matters into our own hands until we can vote them out.

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