From his carved wooden ocean canoe, Rueben George stares fiercely towards the shore. Surrounded by a platoon of paddlers several hundred strong – their pointed Coast Salish paddles held resolutely skyward – the Tsleil Waututh nation member stands.
“In paddling here, we did today what our ancestors have done for thousands of years,” the Sundance Chief says. “That’s what we paddled for today: for a brighter future for all of us, that we can all share, so everybody can experience what we experienced today.”
The occasion is a Sept. 1 paddle journey to Tsleil Waututh’s territories (in what is today North Vancouver, B.C.) from Squamish nation two hours up the Burrard Inlet.
The backdrop of this armada – piloted by First Nations and their environmental allies – is oil giant Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby terminal, which would see increased tanker traffic if Canada approves the more-than-doubling of its TransMountain pipeline from Alberta.
The corporation insists its project is safe – in fact, TransMountain has been operating since 1957 – and the plan is to increase its capacity from 300,000 to 750,000 barrels daily, at an estimated $4.1 billion cost.
“Our pipeline’s been operated safely for 60 years,” Michael Davies, Kinder Morgan’s director of engineering, tells This. “It’s an important piece of Canadian infrastructure – the original TransMountain system pipeline was, when it was first built.
“One of the biggest things this brings is it brings Canada the opportunity for diversity in the markets that it can trade its crude oil. It’s a $4 billion project; it’s going to have a big stimulus on the B.C. economy when it’s built, and it’s going to produce property taxes; it’s going to produce income taxes. It’s going to provide Canadian oil production with the opportunity to get higher prices.”
For now, Kinder Morgan is holding public open houses along the route – events where dozens of green-shirted staffers field one-on-one questions from the public amidst colourful posters proclaiming the pipeline’s benefits – before the proposal is submitted.
The company is also reaching out to 100 First Nations along the route, some of them fierce opponents – and, although it refuses to reveal its supporters, Kinder Morgan’s Aboriginal Engagement Lead insisted there are some.
At a 4,000-strong rally at the province’s Legislature on Oct. 22, dozens of tribal leaders spoke againstKinder Morgan, joined by major union heads and environmental campaigners. Among the 30 speakers, one moved the crowd to tears and drumming as she recalled a pipeline rupture in 2011, near her family home on Alberta’s Lubicon nation, causing relatives nausea, itchy eyes and headaches.
“We know we cannot sustain the massive industrial projects in the tar sands,” said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “We know we cannot build more pipelines to put more communities under threat, and we know we cannot allow oil tankers to traverse this beautiful west coast.
“We know there’s too much at stake, and today we stand up to be counted. Our message is echoing from coast to coast… We must stop the tar sands – before it spreads like tentacles and continues to impact more and more communities – and we need to stop it before it’s too late. The government should protect the people that they claim to represent. But instead, we see communities being sacrificed for the profit of a few.”
Countering proponents’ trumpeting of jobs and economic growth, the leader of the largest energy sector union denounced both Kinder Morgan and Enbridge, whose Northern Gateway proposal is also under fire.
“Our union is diametrically opposed to building the pipelines,” said Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers of Canada. “I don’t know what these clowns have got in their minds, but these pipelines are job-killers.
“These pipelines are bad for the environment. They don’t respect First Nations rights. And they are destroying the economy of Canada. How on Earth do you justify pumping raw bitumen to some foreign land to be processed? Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s a division between environmentalists, First Nations and labour. There’s not. We’re all united on the same page: No to those pipelines!”