There’s only one way to deal with intimidation and violent rhetoric

“We don’t threaten, Premier Notley’s government doesn’t. We just do.”- Shannon Phillips, Alberta Environment Minister

“Canada can and will do what it takes to exert its authority to have the pipeline built.” – Jim Carr, Energy and Natural Resources Minister

Ministers in a provincial NDP government. Liberal members from the ‘Sunny Ways cabinet.’ Conservative media personalities.

These are some of the people fuelling an alarming escalation in Canada’s political debate, with intimidating rhetoric aimed at First Nations and British Columbians who oppose Kinder Morgan’s expansion project.

When pressed on the violent nature of his comments Brett Wilson (formerly of CBC’s Dragon’s Den) doubled down: “I didn’t say kill the protesters. I said hang the morons. A subset of protesters.” He also referred to drowning environmental campaigners: “Cement boots work…”

These messages from political and business leaders, amplified by the media, give cover for a whole horde of online commenters to hurl abuse our way.

Twitter follower Dave Gillis who hails from Grand Prairie chimed in, “Don’t worry about killing the protesters just run the ones over that get in the way of the progress of the pipeline. Jail all the eco-terrorists that take money from foreign entities.”

British Columbians, who up to now have been intimidated and insulted, are now facing open threats. It’s ugly and it’s dark, and it asks of us to choose: do we shine some light on this and figure out how to respond? Or do we pretend it’s not happening?

I choose sunlight.

It should come as a shock to Canadians that people in positions of power and authority like Phillips, Carr and Wilson seem perfectly comfortable borrowing from the playbook of authoritarian strongmen. Their us-versus-them rhetoric dehumanizes the real people standing up to this project, trying to cast us as un-Canadian, illegitimate, even deserving of harm.

Those themes are readily embraced by people who feel their economic security slipping and want an outside scapegoat they can blame. Albertans aren’t just competing with temporary foreign workers: now the big oil companies are cutting staff and testing autonomous self-driving haul trucks.

Those same companies lobbied for royalty rollbacks that shortchange the treasury, while successive Alberta governments failed to diversify the economy or even add value to most of the raw crude shipped out of the province. Meanwhile they’ve spent down the province’s rainy day fund. Alberta is painfully unprepared for a future without high oil prices.

People want an outlet for their anxiety, and politicians are giving it to them: blame British Columbians.

Premier Notley was asked what would happen if a judge agreed with British Columbia that it has the right to restrict diluted bitumen shipments to the West Coast. She replied: “B.C. would trigger an internal Canadian trade war that would make what’s going on with the United States today look like a tea party.”

If you are starting to worry about the consequences of this overheated rhetoric, perhaps even for your personal safety, I hear you. Bullies succeed when people back down. Now is the time to stand up and show the country the strength of our movement in B.C.

If you need some inspiration and courage to battle through the negativity directed our way I know some people from whom you might draw it. They are our neighbours. The ones who have been here all along, weathering far worse. People who despite being shelled from gunboats, driven off their land, persecuted for generations by police and politicians and priests, still don’t hesitate to stand up to the state.

We could lie down and become the doormat the oil industry wipes it’s polished shoes on as it strides up to the bank. Or with a deliberate and powerful breath find the space, in our heads and in our hearts — where the true nature of what it means to be a British Columbian lives — and call it up. To resist as one.