They are the meddlers, the overseas voices who have sought to influence the assessment of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Foreign opposition to the $6.6-billion project, which would allow oil sands crude to reach Pacific waters for export to new markets in Asia and California, has elicited a furious response from political and business leaders across Canada. They have accused outsiders of “hijacking” the process. They have called environmental advocates “radicals.”
Yet for many of the foreigners who have signed up to have their say, the Gateway hearings are merely a chance to fight for Canada’s West Coast. Its reputation as a haven of untamed ocean and mountains has made it a place people have come to care for. Some may be professional environmental advocates; it’s clear, however, that many are not. One is a Brazilian bank worker with a heart for animals. One is a Colorado birder concerned about oil sands impact on migratory fowl. One is a Virginia massage therapist who says the northern B.C. landscape “sings to my soul.” At least two are actually Canadians living abroad.
Another is Florian Schulz, a wildlife photographer from Wilhelmsdorf, Germany, whose work has appeared in National Geographic. He has spent four months living in sailboats off the B.C. coast, in the area where tankers could one day sail. He had a front-row seat to a spectacle of wildlife: He has photos of blond “spirit bears,” wolves, grizzlies, orcas and humpbacks.
“To put this entire ecosystem, which is based on salmon, at risk because of the Enbridge pipeline and the tanker traffic is just crazy,” Mr. Schulz said.
But people like Mr. Schulz are unlikely to speak to the review panel, for scheduling and travelling reasons. Some foreigners, however, will be flown in by environmental groups – including several people from Michigan who live near the site of a major Enbridge spill. They are likely to show up when the hearings come to major centres, such as Calgary and Vancouver. (On Tuesday, the review panel comes to Edmonton to hear from two Cree nations).
Pipeline proponents hope those foreigners won’t be allowed in. The group Ethical Oil has asked Canadians to demand that Ottawa “ban foreigners from Gateway hearings.” Ezra Levant, the author and TV host, said he is concerned about the “hundreds of bought-and-paid-for puppets of foreign interests” engaged in the process. But Mr. Schulz bristled at the notion that non-Canadians should be barred.
“To cherish the incredible beauty of Canada and to celebrate it – as a foreigner, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” he said. “There are certain values and ethics that I think are beyond borders.”
And most of those with an interest in Northern Gateway live in Canada. When the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C. anti-tanker group, set up an online tool for people to sign up for oral statements on Northern Gateway – an electronic form generated faxes sent to the National Energy Board – it attracted 1,595 people. Of those, 64 were Canadians from outside of B.C. Four lived outside Canada.
A further 400 people signed up through websites crafted by Dogwood for organizations like the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, which succeeded in stoking international interest. It sent out an e-mail that reached some six million people.
One was Ines Gudic, a bank worker in Santos, Brazil. She owns 10 cats, three dogs and spends her free time collecting donations to bring in injured strays for veterinary care. Her love of animals led her to watch a DVD about the spirit bear – or the kermode bear, a white subspecies of the black bear whose habitat lies near where Northern Gateway-fed tankers would sail. Apprised of pipeline plans, and concerned a spill could hurt these unique bears, she signed up.
She was “totally unaware” she was registered to make an oral statement, she said, speaking through an interpreter. But she did fill out the form herself – as did another Brazilian named Elano Ferraz, who wrote in an email: “I did sign up to speak at the environmental hearing for the Northern Gateway pipeline.”
They contradicted reporting by a Calgary newspaper, which called it a “mystery” that the two Brazilians “were signed up without their knowledge.” That allegation sparked fury from pro-pipeline groups and industry leaders. Enbridge chief executive Pat Daniel last week accused non-Canadians of attempting to “delay” and “confuse” the project, pointing to “the number of people who are serving as intervenors that have never heard of the project.”
Yet each of the people with foreign addresses contacted by The Globe and Mail said they had registered themselves. The process was not, however, entirely clear. The Spirit Bear group’s e-mail, for example, asked people to “give the Spirit Bear a voice.” It didn’t mention it was asking people to speak before the National Energy Board.
David Esteban, an assistant professor of biology who teaches at Vassar College in New York, and holds a PhD, thought he was merely signing a petition. Still, he is eager to have his voice heard. A Canadian originally from Calgary, he said: “I don’t think a pipeline from Alberta to B.C. is a good idea.”