Here’s a letter I wrote on July 11 to Christy Clark, premier of BC, to express my concern about the Northern Gateway Pipeline, so called, a project of an oil company called Enbridge. Later the same day she came out with a public statement about this, saying that what had happened in Michigan was unacceptable in BC (I guess so!), but as the Enbridge folk were quick to notice, not changing the stance of her government on the issue. I got a lot of positive response to this letter from my Vancouver and BC maillists; only one response said I wasn’t tough/mean/firm enough.
The Honourable Christy Clark / Premier of British Columbia / Box 9041 / Stn Prov Govt / Victoria, BC V8W 9E1
I am taking the liberty of the first-name form of address on two grounds. The first is that I was introduced to you when you were three years old, and your parents brought you to Sorrento Centre, where I was working at the time. (Later I worked with your mother in the Burnaby Family Life program.) You and I are also fellow-members of Christ Church Cathedral.
I am writing to you today, as a concerned citizen and native of British Columbia, to register my opposition to the possibility of the construction of the projected Northern Gateway Pipeline. My objections rest on a number of grounds—economic, environmental and spiritual.
I am convinced that, ultimately, the pipeline would not be of economic advantage to BC, on two grounds. My understanding is that were the pipeline to be built, it would only require a staff of 40 or so to maintain it, which puts the lie to the claims of thousands of jobs for BC residents. Yes, it would involve thousands in the building, but so few after that. This links directly with the environmental concern, in that if the pipeline were to be built, an oil spill in Hartley Bay (for which the Province would be financially responsible) would devastate the coastal fishing industry, which currently employs some 26,000 workers. The Exxon Valdez spill, which occurred in 1989, is still (!) being cleaned up, 23 years later.
Many commentators are saying that if the pipeline is built, we should expect there to be one or more oil spills, that a spill is a certainty rather than a possibility. As you will know, Enbridge, the company behind the pipeline, already had a dreadful environmental record before the Michigan spill of two years ago. I am trusting that you will have read the article in today’s Vancouver Sun (link below), which describes how the US National Transportation Safety Board has delivered a scathing assessment of the carelessness and incompetence of Enbridge in dealing with that spill, the clean-up costs for which have now passed $800 million dollars. This makes it clear that any purported dichotomy between economics and environment is a false one. The economy depends on the environment, and always will.
Spiritually, the beauty of the land is precious to the First Nations of the Province, as testimony to the greatness of the Creator. Would that the rest of us shared this conviction! I place beside it the comment of some years ago from Vaclav Havel, first president of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia, that we will not resolve our environmental crises (and thereby our economic crises) until we renew our understanding of the earth as sacred, something which the First Nations have never forgotten.
I come now to the question of your own decision, and of your historical legacy. What will the historians of ten or twenty or a hundred years from now say about whether or not you supported the building of the pipeline?
I am aware that you have not come out publicly either for or against the pipeline; and given the political realities in the Province, I can see why this is difficult. It is certain that you will get flak whichever decision you make.
Let me put it as starkly as I can: do you want to go down in history as the premier who supported the building of the pipeline which destroyed the northern environment of the Province, or as the premier who was able to see beyond the immediate economic gains of a fundamentally-flawed project to a saner vision of an environmentally-sound economy? The choice is between short-term gain for long-term pain, or short-term pain for long-term gain.
There is something very specific that is within your power to do in this regard. On June 21, 2010, Premier Campbell signed an agreement with the federal government that relinquished the right of the Province to conduct its own environmental assessments for major resource projects such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline. This may have made sense at the time, since it then seemed that the National Energy Board was an autonomous body which could and would make appropriate decisions. Since then, of course, the Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that he and the federal cabinet will make the decision, i.e., that it will be taken out of the hands of the NEB; and it does not require a crystal ball to realize what that decision will be.
This being so, the Province must regain its autonomous power to do independent environmental assessments. My understanding is that this simply requires 30 days’ notice from the Province to the federal government, and that this autonomous power would then automatically revert to the Province. If you do this, you will leave a positive and courageous legacy to our children, yours and mine, and to the future generations of BC and Canadian citizens. I can assure you that you would receive massive public support for such a decision.
Thinking now nationally, I am sure that you are aware of the proposal recently made by Frank McKenna that the trans-Canada pipeline, which currently has a number of gaps in it, be completed so as to run from Alberta to Nova Scotia. This would enable Alberta oil to reach all parts of the country, and would make it possible for Canada to stop importing oil from Saudi Arabia. If you support this, you will add a positive national dimension to your legacy. We know how important the building of the railway was to Canadian unity; such a national pipeline would be a parallel. My only concern would be that some company other than Enbridge be entrusted with this task.
I know that you love this beautiful planet and province, as of course I do as well. I acknowledge that you are in a difficult place politically. I urge you to do what is clearly the right thing, and may God guide your discernment.
Rev Dr Donald Grayston
Copies Adrian Dix, MLA; Terry Lake, MLA; John Horgan, MLA