The proposed Enbridge pipeline is the largest issue ever faced by B.C.'s aboriginal community, native leader Stewart Phillip declared Monday, as he vowed a long, protracted fight, including blockades and mass protests, against the project, if it is allowed to proceed.
"Our people are prepared to go to the wall against this. There is no doubt about that," warned Grand Chief Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. "There is absolutely no way we will tolerate a project that would violate the environmental integrity of our traditional territories along the pipeline route and along the B.C. coast."
He was speaking at a gathering of high-profile opponents of the controversial, $6-billion pipeline project known as Northern Gateway, that would carry Alberta oil across northern B.C. to Kitimat. There, the oil would be transferred to supertankers for transport through the province's coastal channels on its way to Asia.
They urged B.C. Premier Christy Clark to just say No to the project, rather than set preconditions, as she did last week, that must be met before the province will consider it. Among the conditions is a greater share of oil-generated revenue from neighbouring Alberta.
Joining those speaking out was former federal environment minister David Anderson, who ripped into Enbridge as "perhaps the last company in North America" that should be permitted to construct an oil pipeline across the province.
He accused the Calgary-based company of having a "cowboy culture" that is indifferent to safety and "quite inappropriate for building a pipeline in one of the most sensitive parts of the world."
Mr. Anderson referred to a litany of oil spills from Enbridge-operated pipelines, including a large rupture in Michigan that prompted U.S. regulators to brand the company's initial response to the mishap as one akin to "the Keystone Kops."
"Enbridge should simply withdraw its application and disappear," said Mr. Anderson, who spent five years as minister of the environment in the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. "There is nothing to indicate the company has changed its corporate culture of carelessness, with respect to worker safety and environmental protection."
Mr. Anderson, a long-time opponent of oil tanker traffic through B.C. coastal waters, scorned Enbridge's commitment to spend an extra $500-million to further lessen the project's risk, including thicker pipe. "You don't change a corporate culture by spending more on steel," he said.
He urged Ms. Clark to go even further in her opposition to the Enbridge pipeline and reject it completely. "She has tried hard to be reasonable, but I'd prefer her to come out against the pipeline and against Enbridge. I believe the time has come to say No – emphatically."
Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway denied Mr. Anderson's assertions against the company.
"He's entitled to his opinion, but I'd be interested to know how his opinion was formed," Mr. Stanway said. "To my knowledge, he's never made any enquiries about how we operate as a company."
Asked whether Enbridge has a cowboy culture, Mr. Stanway replied: "No, of course we don't, except for the two weeks of the Calgary Stampede."
Mr. Anderson made up his mind a long time ago about the pipeline proposal, he said. "So, it's difficult to have a conversation with him."
Mr. Stanway said opposition to the pipeline project appears greater than it is, because supporters prefer to keep a low profile. "Our opponents are very visible, very vocal."
Grand Chief Phillip, meanwhile, said B.C. natives will take their pipeline opposition to energy board hearings and to the courts. If those efforts fail, the fight will then move to the land, he promised. "And we will not be alone. There will be thousands of people there with us. We are willing to go the distance."
He said it is not a matter of securing a better share of pipeline revenue. "This is about the integrity of our land, and we are willing to go to any lengths to defend that. We have no choice."
Jennifer Rice, a member of city council in Prince Rupert, which has voted unanimously against the Gateway project, echoed the view that more money is not the issue.
"This is about risking our fishing and tourism economy for oil tankers and pipelines. Of course, the Premier should stand up for British Columbia, but the only responsible stand is to say No. Period."