Ignoring Risk

If the economic downturn has taught us anything it is that we ignore risk at our peril. Ignoring lesson from the last century about regulating greedy speculation and keeping corporations from becoming too big to fail has everyone now paying the price.

In pursuit of silly money from the oil patch Canadian political leaders are ignoring other potentially devastating risks. The Exxon Valdez tanker accident 21 years ago today is yet another tangible reminder that it is not just financial risks that can be underestimated.  One drunken captain, a slight navigation error and 45 million litres of oil were spilled in the spectacular waters of Prince Williams Sound.

Canadian oil interest and their government supporters in Ottawa and Victoria are also ignoring another important history lesson: British Columbia is the home to a formidable coalition of groups that have stopped a host of high-profile industrial projects including tanker-pipeline proposals. Coastal oil and gas drilling and an oil port at Kitimat were stopped in the 1970’s , industrial logging in Clayoquot Sound was stopped in the 1990s, and the Great Bear Rainforest was protected earlier this decade. Now the battleground is pipelines and tankers and Enbridge’s proposed project is in the center of the collective cross hairs.

Opposition to Enbridge’s project has reached a critical mass. Yesterday, Coastal First Nations issued a Declaration banning crude oil tankers from their territories. This was a historic event! The ban is grounded in First Nations’ ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities over the lands and waters of their territories.  Any company violating the tanker ban will be subject to  potential enforcement action grounded in these nations’ respective laws and customs increasing the probability of litigation by one or more First Nations that could delay or potentially derail the project.

But opposition won’t be limited to the courts. Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations said, “there are many court decisions backing us, but failing all of that, our people have said they will blockade tankers in their little vessels. This is not an uphill battle, this is the wall. Enbridge has just hit the wall. As far as we’re concerned, this project is dead.”

About 28 First Nations bands, an equal number of environmental groups (including Dogwood Initiative) 45 businesses and 35 prominent individuals also signed onto a full page ad in the Globe and Mail against Enbridge’s project.

Enbridge clearly has never faced the fury of the coordinated campaign that is just beginning to roll out. The smart thing to do would be to abandon the project before the damage to the company escalates. Given the pledges of the Coastal First Nations and the growing network of supporters I am confident that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline will never get built.

But the tanker battle isn’t yet won.
Concerned citizens can’t allow Gordon Campbell, Stephen Harper and oil executives like Enbridge CEO Daniel Patrick to ignore the risks of oil spills and global warming. Our political leaders underestimated the risks of financial meltdown, now they are taking high-stakes gambles with the future of our children. They may try to forget or ignore us, but Dogwood Initiative with the support of our growing network of activists, will make sure they remember.

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