A Game of Votes
As the undead march on Fortress B.C., Dogwood prepares the defences
How do you kill something that just won’t die?
That’s the question preoccupying Game of Thrones fans, and the millions of British Columbians who oppose bitumen-laden oil tankers on our home shores. Whether you’re watching the looming siege of Westeros by an icy undead horde – or the political machinations around the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan proposals – you’re probably pondering how to defeat nasty things that just won’t stay dead.
Enbridge’s decade-old scheme for a West Coast oil port in Kitimat recently got new life when Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley flip-flopped and decided to support the Northern Gateway pipeline. Prime Minister Trudeau’s promised North Coast oil tanker ban is nowhere to be seen, while Marc Garneau, Trudeau’s Minister of Transport has been quoted saying Enbridge isn’t dead after all.
Meanwhile, the National Energy Board is set to approve Kinder Morgan’s massive oil tanker proposal by May 20, 2016, amid reports that Trudeau, Notley and Premier Christy Clark are working on a deal to send Site C electricity to Alberta in exchange for a bitumen pipeline to the West Coast.
No Tankers supporters are justifiably getting nervous. Like the people of Westeros watching their political leaders squabble over the Iron Throne, we know it’s going to fall to us to defend the Wall. But with what? Samwell Tarly has his dragonglass and Jon Snow has a sword made of Valyrian steel, each capable of stopping a White Walker. What tools do we have to permanently dispatch both of the undead oily beasts that threaten our province?
Big Oil’s ever-evolving effort to get a pipeline to the West Coast is many things, but it’s not without cunning. So are the glowing, blue-eyed Walkers who, as they mass north of the Wall, demonstrate both formidable strategy and terrifying powers. Like Big Oil, they seem to have unlimited resources, particularly when resurrecting humans felled in battle into their army of undead wights.
Enbridge and Kinder Morgan not only seem capable of hypnotizing politicians, but their multi-million dollar saturation TV ads and vast lobbying budgets make them seem unbeatable. But look far enough back in the maesters’ scrolls and you will see vanquishing them is possible.
Just as the White Walkers were driven from the Seven Kingdoms into exile north of The Wall, every attempt to force oil tankers on British Columbia’s magnificent coast has failed. At least once every decade Big Oil attempts to invade B.C.’s coast, and every time a formidable coalition of First Nations, coastal residents, municipalities, environmental groups and concerned citizens bands together and defeats them.
And akin to the terrifying legend of the White Walkers being forgotten, or mistaken as mythology, few British Columbians remember that our coast is littered with the carcasses of abandoned pipeline and oil terminal schemes.
In the 1960s Big Oil began looking at the B.C. coast for offshore drilling and oil tanker traffic, only to be rebuffed. In the 1970s British Columbians defeated efforts to send Alaskan oil tankers through B.C. waters. Later that decade, people power trounced the Kitimat Oil Port – leading then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to put a moratorium on crude oil tankers in Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound and Dixon Entrance (which six Prime Ministers before Stephen Harper recognized and respected).
In the late 1980s, further efforts to open up the coast to oil were abandoned after backlash following the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster.
But as memories of these victories fade, the threat returns. Civil war distracted the political leadership of the Seven Kingdoms and allowed the White Walkers to gather power North of the Wall, checked only by the beleaguered Night’s Watch. And while the southern warlords of Westeros dither, it is the rag-tag Night’s Watch, like No Tankers supporters, who realize the existential threat and begin preparing to repel the undead invaders.
Justin Trudeau’s government seems to hope that because they’re not Harper Conservatives, the physics of sinking bitumen have changed. Or climate change has somehow become less urgent. Or the many No Tankers supporters in swing ridings who voted Liberal last time will simply roll over and forget. But none of that is true.
The No Tankers forces get better organized and stronger every day. Dogwood now has teams actively organizing in 32 B.C. ridings and will be in 45 by next year. Our database of contactable B.C. supporters is approaching a quarter of a million people. Every month, more canvassers are trained to sign up and mobilize their friends and family. These teams helped defeat 19 pro-tanker candidates in the last federal election.
And this growing grassroots movement is not alone. First Nations have already launched 19 lawsuits against Enbridge and two against Kinder Morgan (with more expected if it’s approved). Any one of these lawsuits could quash these undead oil tanker proposals.
The B.C. Supreme Court determined in the Gitga’at case that the province’s attempt to voluntarily sign away its authority to assess and approve major projects to the federal government was invalid. The Court ruled the “one review / one decision” approval process was deficient and that the province had failed to adequately consult and accommodate First Nations affected by Enbridge’s proposal.
This means both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan will need to go through an additional provincial assessment process before they can be built. It also validates the Theory of Change behind Dogwood Initiative’s “Let BC Vote” campaign, which gives us the option of launching a citizens’ initiative if our provincial politicians approve oil pipelines against the will of the majority.
While we don’t have any pet dragons, we do have a unique direct democracy tool at our disposal. The citizens’ initiative is British Columbia’s democratic insurance policy against the invasion of undead oil tanker proposals. It is our 700-foot ice wall, if politicians in Ottawa and Victoria attempt to sell us out to Big Oil or foreign governments.
And yes, our clipboards and petition sheets are as close as we’ve got to dragonglass knives or Valyrian swords. Trudeau and Clark might want to think of the Dogwood teams training in ridings across B.C. a bit like the Unsullied of Astapor – they haven’t been deployed yet in a full-scale campaign, but do you really want to take the chance?
The epic battle over the expansion of oil tankers on the West Coast might not feature scantily-clad actors or epic sword fights, but it does exemplify the David versus Goliath struggles of the climate era. Dogwood’s success in turning out our supporters to vote in the 2014 municipal elections and 2015 federal election has laid the foundation for legends to grow.
It may not ever make it onto a Sunday night cable drama, but the oil tanker saga will be written about in Canadian history books. Unless Trudeau and Clark reverse course, we’ll have to add a new chapter about what happens when politicians ignore the wishes of their people.