Howard Breen   June 8, 2014

Today, marks International Oceans Day, and like it or not, the tarsands pipeline war to export bitumen on our coast is about to take centre stage in British Columbia, and anywhere the prime minister steps off his plane or a cabinet minister smiles for a photo op -- if the Harper government’s most enraged opponents, First Nations and environmentalists, have anything to say about it.

The majority of British Columbians endorsing the call to maintain a pre-emptive ban on north coast oil tankers, and rejecting Calgary-based Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline will finally receive their long-anticipated kick in the head from Stephen Harper any day now - pushing any self-respecting citizen into becoming a conscience-pricked climate insurgent overnight.

Most Enbridge critics staunchly believe if the pipeline flows, it will spill, when it spills, it kills; and the bitumen that would fill hundreds of Douglas Channel supertankers annually, will one day catastrophically spill and kill too, forever driving an oil-stained stake through the heart of the Harper-Enbridge rosy cost-benefit analysis.

Indeed, for endless months, it’s been hard to go a day without hearing a commercial broadcast about the highly contested Northern Gateway pipeline project from Enbridge, or read press excerpts from a speech from a Harper government minister lauding tarsands expansion and the need for this hotly-contested pipeline.

Corporate petro-dollar greed transparently masquerading as greenwash, Enbridge relentlessly televised months of slick, timely placements of lamely reassuring vast wilderness panoramas in their business-as-usual commercials in the high hopes of pacifying those still undecided in front of their televisions, and inoculating any urge to turn to the protest blockade. 

British Columbians have been relentlessly asking for federal explanations over and over for years: Why risk harming our beloved coast and wilderness for a pipeline and tankers carrying the dirtiest fossil fuel imaginable?

For the majority of B.C. citizens there is no credible explanation in the face of the clean energy revolution emerging everywhere -- but Canada.

The Harper government tiresome explanation is:  development is in the national interest. Which is perhaps remotely true if you’re referring to possibly the U.S. or China and their global petro-dependent corporations, which are benefiting by some $34 billion in Canadian taxpayer-funded subsidies.

As the April 12th Kitimat city vote rejection result should plainly tell industry, the eco-informed BC citizenry are far from seeing such media public manipulation as a well-meaning trade-off for wilderness lost, but rather yet another cynical power play.

Recently, Harper has repeatedly backstopped the pending Enbridge announcement with a hodgepodge of news releases about pipeline and tanker safety policy half-measures, and expectantly bought and paid for the silence of numerous recipients of government conservation grants.

The anti-extractionists have been far from idle, amassing an impressive rollout of celebrities from Neil Young to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and inspiring hundreds of scientists to speak out in unison in the hopes of bringing greater global awareness to the plight of communities threatened by tarsands expansion and the planned exports from BC ports.

Several questions are now on the lips of many: Will Harper and Enbridge’s exorbitant pacification marketing win out over grassroots activist efforts? Will the cumulative backlash now detonating against the XL Keystone pipeline, Kinder Morgan pipeline, and Christy Clark LNG pipelines, give Harper serious pause to an Enbridge approval risking his BC federal seats in the lead up to and October 20125 election?

The days of hanging in there, hoping for a real Harper climate epiphany, searching for clean energy solutions, and praying for a miracle, are undoubtedly about to abruptly end -- with every likelihood that the ideologically-driven Harper government will not deviate from putting his campaign petro-funders first and make good on its promise to them with a June pronouncement to fatally compromise decades of environmental security progress in BC.

And no one seriously paying attention is breath-holding for an eleventh hour pipeline-killing reprieve from Premier Christy Clark, and putting their placards into storage.

Whichever way the Enbridge pipeline decision goes, the tarsands and whichever export route is chosen have become the iconic protest to ignite a nationwide, multi-generational struggle to save the planet from climate collapse.

By months’ end, most Canadians will have been engaged and animated to decide what options of ‘last resort’ remain to stop all their pipeline-tanker-terrors from being realized, and how to best to act to save our country.

Instead of ever raising the white flag of defeat to Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, Keystone, or their LNG cousins, and the notable oil barons Koch Bros. and the Chinese, or ‘King Coal’ Jimmy Pattison, thousands of everyday citizens are now being recruited and trained by First Nations and environmental organizations to constructively vent their building anger with renewed pledges to resist: to defend our climate and our communities from all fossil fuel expansion.

Whether it be planning courageous acts of civil disobedience, as pipeline squatters along the pipeline routes, animating community neighbourhood and campus protests and flash mobs at selected government and corporate targets, making citizen arrests of ministers under a defence of climate emergency, or financially supporting anti-pipeline litigants presently on hold, to immediately serve Enbridge and Kinder Morgan and the Harper government with legal injunctions, the long simmering pipeline cold war will dramatically escalate into direct confrontation once Harper makes his first pipeline approval public.

After muzzling government climate scientists and repeal of countless acts of legislation to safeguard the environment and global climate, only the most naïve would not believe this prime minister doesn’t strive to attain a legacy of the denyingest climate change denier ever.

The billion dollar question is just how heavy-handed will a military-trigger-happy Harper now get when facing the province that spawned Greenpeace’s global tactical media wars?

For the first time in Canadian history, the federal government has devoted significant resources to deny environmental charities federal tax exemption, and in some instances have actually spied on, and tracked members of anti-pipeline groups.

It is only a matter of time that they routinely infiltrate key opposition groups, and raise their rhetoric war with more militarization and pipeline special operations force deployment along the route between Alberta and Kitimat in the face of more organized resistance against fossil fuel extraction by First Nations and their allies.

Peaceful resistance will surely be met by violent state repression, to quell dissent and maintain the pipeline and port terminal construction schedule.

Does Stephen Harper really expect anything different? Probably not.

Oil oligarchs are living in desperate times. If they are to liquidate their petro-assets before it becomes too late to do so, their public servants must quickly do their bidding. Hence, the ginormous campaign dollars pouring into petro-states worldwide, and their growing proclivity to inappropriately call all citizen resisters eco-terrorists.

Many Canadians, like the generation who selflessly fought in the two Great Wars, will soon seek the fullest expression of living in active defence of all that is truly egalitarian, wild, and precious across this great country.

From now until the 2015 election will decide Harper’s political fate (let’s dream he is forced to quickly resign by his backbenchers for recklessly unleashing public resistance nationwide). 

Northern Gateway may be a major political flashpoint, but it was neither the first nor likely the last Harper mistake to open the activist door to a national nonviolent movement to find meaning and personal relevance to resist and defy inexcusably heinous ecocide by the Harper government.

We have had numerous collapsing civilizations in human history. Never have we have we had collapsing global seas. The fossil fuel-induced acidification, and direct petroleum pollution of the world oceans can only be seen as a tribute to corporate greed.

It is time to resist. Do it for our oceans.


Howard Breen is the Campaign Director of Smart Change ( ) a Vancouver-based non-profit think tank engaged in building a social movement for systemic change and safeguarding democracy.  

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