People Powered: the No Enbridge Pipeline Rally

On Saturday, TC and I joined thousands of concerned Metro Vancouver citizens at the No Enbridge Pipeline Rally, the Vancouver edition of the Defend Our Climate, Defend Our Communities national day of action.

I was happy to lend my voice to the choir of thousands upon thousands of Canadians coast to coast who rallied for an environmentally and ethically responsible future, and the theme of this particular event (No Enbridge Pipeline) was also personal for me. Some people (i.e. politicians and media) often like to insist that shipping oil by pipeline to the coast would be safer than shipping it by rail, but the problem for me is not the mode of transportation. I don’t want tar sands crude reaching the BC coast at all, because once it does, it will be loaded into tankers which will navigate some of the most pristine and dangerous coastline in the world. It would take just one of these massive bitumen-heavy tankers to have a mishap (and it’s not a question of IF this will happen, it’s WHEN), and an ecological catastrophe would ensue.

I fell in love with the love of my life in this city by the sea, we celebrated our engagement kayaking off the coast of Salt Spring Island (with the sea birds and the seals and the otters and the countless marine species that call the water home), and it is beside this same seal-inhabited sea that my TC and I will be married. It would break my heart if our federal and provincial governments’ short-sighted hunger for dirty oil money were to kill or irreversibly harm a beautiful coastline and ecosystem that has given me so much.

My feelings aside, if we’re talking dollars and cents, the permanent costs to the various BC industries that would be decimated by a spill (fishing, aquaculture, tourism, etc.) far outweigh the temporary and minimal benefits that allowing this pipeline (and with it, the tankers) might bring to the province. Though interested parties insist oil and pipeline companies will make sure “world-class” and “world-leading” spill-recovery technology would be in place, the fact of the matter is that oil companies are already using “world-class” technology to clean up their spills, and they aren’t doing a good job of it (three years later Enbridge is still mopping up their spill in the Kalamazoo). If the technology existed to quickly and effectively clean up oil spills, don’t you think companies would be using it, instead of subjecting themselves to a PR disaster every time a major spill occurred? The fact is, the technology to effectively remove bitumen from the ocean does not exist on this planet. So “world-leading” technology, i.e. the best the world has got, is not nearly good enough.

While I was pleased to see mention of the rally in the media (the Vancouver Sun printed a decent summary of the event), it troubles me somewhat when a gathering of thousands of concerned BC citizens is described, as it was in the Province, as “a broad collection of First Nations, environmental, and political groups” (it also bothers me that the last word was more or less given to Enbridge, who have more than enough money to buy some advertising space themselves and do so on a regular basis). While each of the rally’s speakers did fit into at least one of these ethnic, political, or activist categories, and organized groups were certainly in attendance at the rally, labeling the people assembled on Saturday simply as members of this group or that group separates them from the broader BC citizenry, when in fact, those in attendance at the rally were certainly more representative of BC-ers as a whole than any glad-handing politician or smiling corporate representative could be (I mean, take a look at the photos TC took at the event. They look like regular people to me, regular people who are committed to this issue).

Yes, many of us are members or one group or another (or several), but we are still citizens of this province and this country, not separate entities. As a people, we are against the pipeline, and against oil tanker traffic on BC’s coast. What’s so hard to understand? Thousands of people gathered to voice their dissent. People. Not foreign agents. Not radicals. Not malcontents. Moms. Dads. Kids in strollers. Students. Nature lovers (not necessarily members of an environmental group). People who care about the rights of First Nations people (not necessarily First Nations themselves or a member of a First Nations group). People who care about what is happening to democracy in this country and don’t want a pipeline shoved down their throats without their permission (not necessarily members of a political party or group). Grannies in crocheted hats and pea coats. 20-somethings with dreadlocks. Guys dressed as fish. Girls waving orca signs. Taxpayers. Voters. Kayakers on False Creek holding banners in support of the rally. Gay people. Straight people. People of many different races. Young couples in love, like TC and me. Just people. Lots and lots of people.

When City of Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer took to the stage to assure us that the City of Vancouver (that’s the whole city mind you, not just First Nations people or environmentalists or political activists) is against the pipeline, I have never been more proud of my city. Vancouver may have a reputation for being cold, or superficial, but we stand for more than just that-time-when-we-hosted-the-Olympics. We stand for something important.

TC and I stood together for something important that day, and thousands of people stood with us. And I don’t know what will happen and I’m very very worried but I’m very very proud too. If a pipeline gets built, no government will be able to say that only radicals were against it (I mean, I’m a secretary for goodness sakes, if I wanted to be an anarchist I’d throw a brick through a window, not attend a peaceful rally). If that pipeline breaks, no government will be able to say this is what the people asked for. If a tanker spills, no government will be able to say they didn’t know their people said no. We will hold them responsible. Hopefully we won’t have to.