“This didn’t occur to me – I mean that I would react this way. I’m an ex-Marine. I don’t do this,” Bill Gaylord said, choking back tears, as he addressed the panel reviewing Enbridge’s oil tanker and pipeline proposal last week in Victoria.

It was a particularly poignant moment amongst seven days worth of poignant moments as citizens of all walks of life presented to the National Energy Board’s joint review panel during its stop in Victoria from Jan. 4 to 11.

The presenters had to register 15 months ago and schedule three months before their 10-minute slots rolled around. When all was said and done, 253 presenters had spoken in Victoria as part of the largest public input into a National Energy Board hearing in history.

They came one after another for seven days – their eyes wide and wondering, many nervous, with cracking voices and tearful eyes. For several, this was the first time they’d spoken before an audience in all their lives. They were young, they were old, they were apprehensive and they were defiant, but every single one of them had something in common: they were saying no to Enbridge’s desire to bring an oil pipeline and tankers to British Columbia’s coast.

They urged the panel to protect B.C.’s tourism industry, to protect our existing ocean economy, to protect the fabric of our communities and, countless times, the panel was asked to “do the right thing”  – to think of generations to come, to remember their responsibility to do right by British Columbians and Canadians.

“I come from a time when leaving our resources in the ground for our children and their children was the mutually agreed wisdom of us all,” Gaylord told the panel.

Several oil spill experts testified that B.C.’s northern coastal waters are too risky for oil tankers and that a cleanup would be impossible.

Reverend Ken Gray, an Anglican priest, told the panel: “Christians and other faith traditions unite increasingly around the so-called Golden Rule, treat others as you wish to be treated, or the inverse and original form, do not treat others as you, yourselves, do not wish to be treated.

“The rule thrives within the human community, and equally so can be applied to the relationship between humanity and creation. If you do not wish to be exhausted, ignored, trodden upon, taken over, sacrificed for the benefit of others, then do not act in a similar manner.”

Sid Jorna, a retired commander of the Royal Canadian Navy with a bridge watch-keeping certificate and a Master’s degree in engineering, said oil tankers “pose an unacceptable risk of a significant oil spill with extreme consequences to the environment. I believe that a major tanker accident in this confined sea is inevitable over time due to the nature of the tankers and the nature of the sea and climate of this region.”

Jorna was one of several presenters to quote John Vaillant’s book The Golden Spruce: “Large enough waves will expose the sea floor of the Hecate Strait. The result is one of the most diabolically hostile environments that wind, sea and land are capable of conjuring up.”

Lliam Hildebrand, who holds red seals in welding and steel fabricating and works in the oilsands, spoke of his frustration in only being able to find work in the oil and gas sector.

Hildebrand recently surveyed ten of his fellow oilsands workers on such issues as banning raw oil exports, refining oil in Canada and reducing tax subsidies to the fossil fuel sector and found most were in favour.

“This project doesn’t make any sense for people in Canada,” Hildebrand told the panel. “It doesn’t make sense to the workers in the oilsands and we understand that very clearly, actually, almost more clearly than anyone else in this country because we realize that this is going to export not only raw oil, but raw jobs.”

Frank Mitchell, a retired World Bank Economist, told the panel about divesting of his shares in Enbridge. “The investment was extremely successful financially and I expect Enbridge will continue to be profitable, but … we are no longer shareholders and could not, in good conscience, consider being shareholders today,” he said.

In urging the panel to say no to Enbridge’s proposal, Mitchell said: “You are the nearest we have, that Canadians have, to a judge and jury to decide if this project is consistent with the Canadian public interest.”

On the second last day of hearings, Terry Dance-Bennink, a retired vice-president academic of Flemming College in Ontario, told the panel how this issue has prompted her to get engaged in politics for the first time in years.

“I intend to get active in both provincial and federal politics for the first time in decades,” she said. “I will campaign this spring for whichever party has the strongest no tankers off our coast stance.”

Indeed, many presenters noted how, despite their passionate and powerful presentations, the review panel isn’t really going to be making the final decision – this is ultimately a political decision, whether we like it or not. Now the only question is whether we let Prime Minister Stephen Harper determine our fate from Ottawa or whether we elect a B.C. government that will stand up for our province.

To drive home the point, on the final day of the hearings, 80 people volunteered to go canvassing door-to-door in two Greater Victoria ridings as part of Dogwood’s Knock the Vote – an event carried out with “military precision” according to Jack Knox of the Victoria Times Colonist.

To continue to put the pressure back on our provincial politicians, we’ll also be holding a Knock the Vote event in Vancouver after the last day of hearings.

Thank you to all of you who have taken the immense time and effort required to present to the review panel. We’ll continue to live blog the hearings as they move on to Vancouver this week.

Faces From the Hearings

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