Power Summer Diaries #4: A Perfect Storm on the West Coast

By Cameron Fenton

Participants at the Power Summer West Coast training camp.

There is a perfect storm brewing on the West Coast of Canada.

Not your conventional Vancouver weather system, this storm has been brewing since 2003 when corporations from across the country came together as the Gateway Council and hatched a (20?) stage proposal designed to transform Canada’s West Coast into a mass export point for all things resource based. Much like in the salt spray soaked blockbuster, this perfect storm is a coalescing of a number of smaller systems, but instead of scruffy faced celebrities at the center, this storm is dead set to converge on the rights of Indigenous peoples, the rights of workers, and on any hopes of a just and sustainable future.

The Gateway project is a ticking climate bomb. On the one hand it would facilitate massive expansion of the fossil fuel industry in Canada, providing a new export point and access to new markets for projects like the tar sands, currently looking to start fueling China’s rapid expansion. Right now the project includes the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. Pumping over 500,000 barrels of dirty tar sands crude each day from Alberta to the coast. This is the most publicly recognized of the petroleum peddlers dreams of the orient, feeding into plans for the construction of a brand new super tanker port in Kitimat. Alongside the Northern Gateway, there are also plans to for a handful of other pipelines, including one being pursued by Kinder Morgan, considered by local organizers as the back door option for moving tar sands crude to the coast. This pipeline, called the Trans-Mountain, is tied to plans to increase tanker traffic in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, exponentially increasing the chances of a oil spill.

On top of all this are plans to increase the size and number of major freeways in the Lower Mainland, the frontline of which is a fight against the South Fraser Perimeter Road. Touted as a plan to decrease traffic congestion in the greater Vancouver area, critics argue that it will do little towards that end. A quick look at the plans for the freeway expansions and it is plain to see that in this case all roads lead to one place, the Deltaport, a container port slated for expansion. This port also could serve as a major export point for coal mined in BC, another industry seeing a push towards expansion.

Tied with these risks to ecosystems all along their paths, the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines also fly in the face of the rights of the Indigenous nations who lay in their proposed pathways. Many of these communities live on lands that remain unceeded, never having signed a treaty with the British or Canadian governments to surrender their rights and title to the land. In order for these projects to be built, they will need to contravene the sovereignty of these people, and the risks associated with them will threaten the lives and livelihoods of these communities. Along with the fossil fuel projects, there is a handful of extraction projects being pursued across BC, such as the Taseko’s Fish Lake mine project, also driven by this push to extract and export.

The third front of this storm represents a continuation of a long running assault on workers in Canada, and a giant leap away from a future built on green jobs. The Gateway is a plan to increase the export of raw materials from Canada while simultaneously increasing the increase of imports of produced good. As the extractive industry expands, secondary and tertiary manufacturing industries will continue to decline, replaced by the import of cheaper, internationally produced goods. This shift s being heralded by plans to transform areas around BC’s coastal ports into Free Trade Zones, coupled with a desire to increase the use of temporary foreign workers.

This perfect storm is closing in at an alarming rate, but we can prepare for it, ride it out and break through.

Let’s start at the pipelines and the mines. In order to move forward these projects must violate the rights and title of the Indigenous nations whose lands they cross and occupy.  Stopping them means supporting these communities in asserting their sovereignty. If the provincial and federal government cannot violate the rights of these nations to their lands, these projects cannot move forward.

Stopping the Free Trade Zones on the coast means working with labour, transitioning to a just future built on meaningful, just work for all. It also means working for migrant justice and fighting for the dignity of all people against immigration policies that promote the use of temporary foreign worker programs that tear apart families and treat humans as a commodity to consumed by our economy.

Stopping freeways means working with those people whose children will be inhaling the exhaust, knowing that these expansions will not only pump thousands of tons of greenhouse gasses in to the atmosphere, but more immediately will pump exhaust into the air these communities breath. Organizing with communities to defend their right to clean air and water will cool the planet, and this is exactly what is happening right now all across BC.

So, even though a perfect storm may be descending, there is no need to run for the life rafts just yet. Communities are banding together, sailing headlong into the swells and riding the breaks, holding fast for a better future.

Cameron Fenton is the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, he will be writing a regular blog this summer as he crosses Canada to do action, strategy and education trainings across the country as part of the Power Summer project. Find out more and sign up for a camp near you!


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