Just as Chief Gyologit (Darleane Glaim) echoed a resounding no from the Wet’suwet’en during intervener hearings in January, Smithers residents showed their solidarity against the Northern Gateway Project by reflecting the same message to the Joint Review Panel last week.
“I and my family are not interested in having a pipeline or tanker traffic coming through my backyard,” David Anderson said, the first of 120 speakers to present to the JRP in Smithers.
As the hearings began April 23, the convention center at the Hudson Bay Lodge was silent and packed to the walls.
The majority of the audience was in clear opposition to the pipeline, as cheers and applause rang out after each speaker firmly expressed their disagreement to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.
On the fourth day of hearings, the JRP listened to concerns from Youth for a Better World, a student organization at Smithers Secondary.
Laura Anderson, Arctica Cunningham and Skeena Lawson, representing the majority of students who oppose the pipeline, said they didn’t want others making decisions that would greatly affect their futures, along with consequences that are sure to follow.
“We will not wait around for the adults of the nation to destroy our future, living and dealing with the consequences of their actions during our lifetime,” said Anderson.
Cunningham finished her presentation by pleading with the JRP to listen and hear what people have been saying to them and to make the right decision for all Canadians.
Although the JRP hearings have been met with controversy over the legitimacy of the process, speakers continued to urge the panel not to give in to political pressure and to show the country that they are an independent body.
“The Prime Minister of Canada and one of his ministers, Joe Oliver, already made their statements,” said Chief Namoks (John Ridsdale), of the Wet’suwet’en.
“They [JRP panel] need to listen to us. You must remember the Wet’suwet’en have never given away their authority on the land. We don’t intend to.”
Chief Namoks continued to say he was very proud of the people of Smithers for standing up and making their voices heard with passion and with heart during the proceedings last week.
“When you stand there and your quality of life is threatened, you speak from the heart and the speakers this week spoke from the heart,” he said. “The words they said were true.”
Smithers hosts some of the strongest opposition to the pipeline and it was very prevalent during last weeks hearings with countless stories about the connection people have to the land here.
However, according to Enbridge communications representative Todd Nogier, the promise of numerous jobs for the northwest is what people need to focus on and leave the controversy behind.
“Clearly, most of the submissions to date have been in opposition,” he said, mentioning the same is true for most land-use and project reviews.
“But that’s not an accurate snapshot of public opinion on the project in general.”
In B.C. alone, he said, the project means 3,000 construction jobs, 560 long-term jobs and $1.2 billion in B.C. tax revenue over the 30-year life of the pipelines.
Regarding the economic case for Northern Gateway, Nogier said that its proposed oil pipeline can carry both bitumen and refined, synthetic crude.
“It’s an important part of the Canadian economy, and a growing one as other sectors lose their relative weight,” Nogier said, noting that oil was Canada’s top export in 2010.
“Nothwithstanding the climate-change concerns here, the energy sector and oil comprise a very, very large part of the economy.”
In the second seating of speakers on the first day of the hearings, one voice spoke out in support of the pipeline. Saying that “everything we do in life, there is a certain amount of risk attached to it.”
Former BC Liberal MLA, Dennis MacKay, was the sole supporter of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, who registered to speak to the JRP.
During his presentation he spoke of personal experience in witnessing the construction of the Kinder Mogan, Trans Mountain Pipeline through Jasper National Park. Noting, to date, 60 years after it was laid, there has been no environmental damage caused by an oil spill.
After spending 50 years in the Valley, MacKay spoke of his experience with the economy and how a project like this could bring economic stimulus to a town like it has never seen before.
“I have seen first hand what happens when the economy starts to suffer,” MacKay said.
“I have seen first hand in my jobs in the Province of British Columbia what happens to communities that lose or don’t have an economic base.”
MacKay continued to talk about the benefits and social impact the pipeline would have on the northwest, especially on Native Reserves, that often have low employment rates.
MacKay finished his statement by saying, “we are moving towards alternative levels of energy, but the world moves today on oil.”
He received no applause.
With files from Andrew Hudson.