Summer in B.C.: rockstars, roughnecks, rights and title

Kai Nagata, Energy & Democracy Director:

How can you tell a campaign is starting to pick up serious momentum? I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to notice some signs: fist-bumps from guys I haven’t hung out with since high school, saying “nice job on Global News, man”. Two college students yelling over the speakers at a show: “Are you that Dogwood guy? Can we join a canvassing team?” My mom asking when she can get some Let BC Vote apparel. (The answer: soon!)

This weekend I was back home in Vancouver at a block party called the East Van Summer Jam. My old classmate Aaron Ross, now lead singer of the Boom Booms, asked me to hop up on stage and give an update on the tanker campaign. When I asked “who here is already a Dogwood supporter?” half the crowd threw their hands in the air and cheered. The average age was probably 25.

I’m not happy Stephen Harper approved Enbridge’s pipeline and oil tanker proposal. I’m disappointed in all the Conservative MPs from British Columbia who kept their mouths shut and watched it happen. But I can’t deny the decision has put some serious wind in our sails.

In the 48 hours after the announcement from Ottawa we picked up 48,000 new supporters, propelling our B.C. network past 200,000 people. That week (according to Google News) Dogwood and the Let BC Vote campaign were referenced in a thousand news articles worldwide. Most importantly, 1,638 more volunteers have since offered to collect signatures from their friends and neighbours.

I’m not being grandiose when I say we have the opportunity to change B.C. politics forever.

As we charge into a busy summer of training and organizing, it’s important to recognize where all this energy came from. We caught a wave last month, but we were only in a position to do so because of years of steady, disciplined work. Work by people like you.

More than half our new pledge signatures in June arrived through social media. It’s a good reminder that even a simple Facebook share is like tossing a pebble in a pond. You never know where those ripples will go. Every conversation you have with a relative, every signature collected on the doorstep, every workshop, every new team that decides to commit: all of this is cumulative.

Now the pieces are starting to come together. As Will Horter sometimes jokes, we’re like an airplane crew still putting the machine together as we leave the runway – but the point is, it flies. Thanks for believing in this. I’ll let Celine tell you where we’re headed next.

Celine Trojand, Organizing Director:

Hello from Dawson Creek! I arrived here in my hometown at the beginning of last week. Everything seems nearly the same as when I left 12 years ago: wide streets, warm sunshine, big skies. The Peace country has a subtle beauty that worms its way into your heart like that fearless grass growing up through concrete. The summer breeze is full of songbirds, poplar leaves rustling and the smell of wild roses and sweet clover.

That said, the first thing I did upon arrival was head to the pub. It wasn’t long before a table of six good ol’ boys insisted I join them. We got to talking. All had some connection to the gas industry: one works at the local power plant, another as a well tester, two of them building pipelines. One is a landowner who described the multiple pump stations that cross his fields.

They all agreed the Enbridge project was a bad deal for our province, environmentally and economically. They said it would be better to refine the oil in Canada and keep the jobs here. But they didn’t feel they had any say in the matter. Here in oil and gas country there’s a strong sense of inevitability around industrial megaprojects. One man told me he just couldn’t understand my confidence in ordinary citizens to stop a company as big as Enbridge.

Despite that, four out of the six signed the Let BC Vote pledge.

Dogwood’s crazy surge last month means the real work is just starting for our organizers. Since the decision, team members have been phoning every single person who put up their hand to help canvass. At festivals, farmers’ markets and on doorsteps after work, organizers are making the most of the warm weather and long hours of daylight.

So far nine riding teams have succeeded in gathering pledge signatures from 15 per cent of registered voters. Another eight are past the 10 per cent threshold required by Elections BC to win a citizens’ initiative. Altogether we have teams working in 45 ridings, which means there are still 40 where we need to train.

It’ll be tough, but the response here in the Peace so far has renewed my confidence. There’s no place in B.C. we and our allies can’t make this work.

In Prince George the Let BC Vote movement is finally gaining the elusive “cool factor” organizers longed for over the spring. Teams are kicking into high gear in the Okanagan. One canvasser told me about a neighbour so eager to sign the petition he jumped out of the shower to sign wearing only a towel, dripping water all over the clipboard. In Kamloops a group of punk rock kids is carrying pledge sheets from concert to concert all summer.

In many communities it feels like we’re approaching a tipping point, like in this video I love to show new organizers. We really are the majority in B.C., and this summer is a chance to show it.

If you’ve already signed the pledge and now would like to try your hand at organizing, simply re-enter your info at LetBCVote.ca and check off the box saying “I can collect signatures from neighbours”. Our system will match your name to the first time you signed, so you won’t be counted twice.

I look forward to meeting you if I haven’t already. If you’re near Fort Saint John this weekend, come out to the Paddle for the Peace. Otherwise we’ll be scheduling trainings in different communities all through the summer and fall. I’ll send updates as the dates come together. Meanwhile, over to Will!

Will Horter, Executive Director:

As both a lawyer and a political organizer, I want to address some questions about how our work fits in given the important victory won by the Tsilhqot’in in the Supreme Court of Canada last month. What are the implications for Enbridge? What are the implications of strengthened First Nations title? For Dogwood’s community organizing strategy?

The short answer is that the Tsilhqot’in decision moves all of us forward – Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. At the same time it’s becoming clear how much work we have still to do.

What’s most significant about last month’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is for the first time in Canadian law, a First Nation achieved recognition of their existing title and authority over their territories. Canada’s highest court made it clear: that land belongs to the Tsilhqot’in, not the Crown, which claimed it in 1858.

While the ruling applies to 1,750 square kilometres quite a ways from any proposed pipeline route, the precedent does not bode well for Enbridge, Kinder Morgan or any other large piece of fossil fuel infrastructure that would impact unceded First Nations land – meaning most of British Columbia.

Indeed the eight Supreme Court justices seemed to target the Harper government’s conditional approval of the Enbridge project. Here is what they wrote:

Once title is established, it may be necessary for the Crown to reassess prior conduct in light of the new reality in order to faithfully discharge its fiduciary duty to the title-holding group going forward.  For example, if the Crown begins a project without consent prior to Aboriginal title being established, it may be required to cancel the project upon establishment of the title if continuation of the project would be unjustifiably infringing (emphasis added).

In other words, if a single First Nation anywhere along the pipeline or oil tanker route establishes legal confirmation of title on their own lands – the way the Tsilhqot’in did – Enbridge is in serious trouble.

The Canadian courts have already established that the Haida and Wet’suwet’en have strong title cases. Either could theoretically halt the project. The Supreme Court also said there are two ways a proposal could go ahead on First Nation title lands:

1. by obtaining the First Nations consent; or

2. by arguing the infringement of title is “justified” under section 35 of the Constitution.

Consent for Enbridge is unlikely as more than 130 First Nations have banned the project from their territories under their own Indigenous laws. But could the Crown argue a pipeline is a justifiable infringement, based on supposed economic benefits to Canada?

In the Tsilhqot’in ruling, the court said: “This means that incursions on Aboriginal title cannot be justified if they would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”

Given the devastating long-term effects of oil spills, particularly toxic, sinking bitumen – not to mention the cumulative impacts of construction and even climate change – it’s hard to see how Enbridge could pass that test. But it will take expensive lawyers and many years of judgments to establish clarity as to the real-world implications of the Tsilhqot’in decision.

So what does all this mean for the Let BC Vote strategy? We’re going full steam ahead, because there are two ways to change laws in this country. One is to win in court. The other is to pressure the lawmakers – in other words, elected politicians.

While the recognition of Aboriginal title provides massive new leverage against unwanted oil tanker and pipeline proposals, there is potentially a swifter, more affordable mechanism to protect our coast from oil spills and our democracy from bullies in government. To make it work, ordinary British Columbians have to organize.

In B.C. we have a unique way to change laws through a citizens’ initiative. If our hand is forced by the federal and provincial governments, we have the option of writing a law that could shut down Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, or both. The hard part is getting 10 per cent of the B.C. population on the same page.

But we’re not alone in this effort. Our allies at Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, have begun building full-time teams in several key ridings. We’re in talks with other partners and look forward to making further announcements later in the summer.

For those of us who don’t hold Aboriginal title or rights, this organizing push is a democratic insurance policy – to ensure unwanted projects aren’t forced on an unwilling province. At the same time, the very fact we’re organizing begins to change the political calculus for lawmakers.

The two approaches are complementary and reinforce one another. While First Nations and other groups are preparing lawsuits, Dogwood Initiative is working with passionate, dedicated citizens in neighborhoods all over the province to build real community power and assert our right to make a fair decision.

Let’s get to work!

Comments are closed.

Send this to a friend