In so many ways, 2013 was tough on everyone in B.C. who cares about social justice and the environment. The surprise election victory by Christy Clark and the BC Liberals, alone, is enough to make me happy to put that year behind us. Adding insult to injury, the National Energy Board (NEB) wrapped up the year by announcing, the week before Christmas, conditional approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
The NEB ruling – though not unexpected – was a big holiday season lump of bitumen for British Columbians, who in their significant majority oppose this reckless export mega-project.
Enbridge has arguably generated more serious opposition across the board – from First Nations to fishers, from the north to the south, coast to interior – than anything in this province for decades. You have to go back to Clayoquot Sound in the early 1990s, or maybe even the Solidarity coalition of 1983, to find such an organized and militant protest movement.
That’s the silver lining to the NEB ruling. The sheer scale of the polarization around this issue and the high stakes of this debate, put B.C. in a position to change the national political scene. It’s worth remembering that the B.C. government of Christy Clark formally opposed Enbridge in their submission to the NEB. So while Clark’s political disposition is to support the oil and gas industry, she has to tread carefully. How the public discussion about Enbridge plays out has implications not just for the other big tar sands pipeline proposal, Kinder Morgan’s, but also for Clark’s efforts to push the massive expansion of fracking and LNG exports.
In the short term, however, stopping Enbridge is ultimately a battle against the Harper government; regardless of the NEB decision, the federal cabinet makes the final call. They now have 180 days to decide.
The Conservative government in Ottawa has tied its fate closely to this great debate about tar sands expansion and export. The issue of Enbridge will dominate political discussion in 2014. If Harper does greenlight Enbridge, it will only escalate resistance, including civil disobedience and First Nations’ court cases. There will also be an enormous political price to pay for attempting to force this down B.C.’s throat. Depending on how politics shakes out in other regions, that price could be a nearly finishing blow to the already teetering Harper government. Will Harper take that chance so close to an election? Or will he find a way to delay the final decision, perhaps by sending Enbridge back to the drawing board to come up with a different route?
Given the lay of the land in Ottawa, it seems clear this government can hang on until 2015. But they’re already shaky, and can be defeated this year in the court of public opinion – starting a country-wide discussion about what comes next.
Harper’s looking vulnerable, in part, after a year of disastrously bad scandal management. His denials, and his non-answer non-denials, in the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright payoff were laughable and at times self-contradictory. Basically, Harper’s defence in this affair relies on us believing he’s incompetent to the point of not knowing what was happening in his own office.
The scandals alone, however, are unlikely to defeat Harper. At times it looks like his government will just implode under the weight of its own incompetence. But it would be a big mistake to count on this. Besides, the biggest scandal is the whole economic system behind the throne. Harper needs to be defeated politically, and that’s going to require an epic effort and mobilization right across the country. There are no shortage of issues that can help galvanize concerted opposition to Harper. Besides pipelines, the cuts to Canada Post and the changes to the Canada Pension Plan should be at the top of the list.
What we don’t really have, yet, is a mechanism to weave together the various threads of resistance to Harper’s agenda. In this respect, the People’s Social Forum, taking place in Ottawa August 21–24, could be a game changer. The Social Forum – bringing together Indigenous activists, and labour and social movement activists from Quebec and the rest of Canada – will be a great chance to build a coherent and ramped up resistance to this government, as well as debating and working on alternatives to this rotten system.
The forum will be a golden opportunity to spread the momentum of the movement against Enbridge across the whole country. 2014 is the time for us to revive an old and proud tradition of protest caravans converging on the capital. On to Ottawa!
Let’s make this a collective New Year’s resolution: if we can block Enbridge, we can defeat Harper. If we can do both, the political terrain will shift dramatically for the better. And then we’ll be in a much better position to block future fossil fuel mega-projects – no matter who is in power.