hijackers aint what they used to be

Western Canada is on hijack alert this week after two stark warnings from Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper led with the announcement that "foreign money" is being used to "hijack" the regulatory process for the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Western Canada is on hijack alert this week after two stark warnings from Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper led with the announcement that “foreign money” is being used to “hijack” the regulatory process for the Northern Gateway pipeline. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver followed up in an open letter with the news that “environmental and other radical groups … threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

In my day, radicals with an ideological agenda hijacked airplanes. Those were the days when radicals were radicals. I mean, what do you do with a regulatory process after you’ve hijacked it? Blow it up? Fly it into a building? Land it in Algeria and demand ransom? It’s not exactly the terror threat of the century, but Oliver’s convinced that if these foreign-funded radicals have their way, Canada’s economy will look like it’s been targeted by the Red Brigades. “No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydroelectric dams.” Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

Unfortunately, Minister Oliver didn’t specify who in particular advocates that the Canadian economy be bombed flat, but he was quite clear that whoever they are they “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians.”

And as if being radical and jet-setting weren’t enough, the enemies of the Canadian economy are – wait for it – quintessentially American. “Finally, if all other avenues have failed,” says Oliver’s letter, “they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone.” It’s just not fair: litigious radicals with foreign money and an American quintessence are beating up on defenceless multi-national oil corporations for no better reason than to plunge Canada into poverty.

At one time the term radical was understood to mean communist, and given the fact that jet-setting communists with size-13 carbon boots are busily pumping billions into Canadian tarsands development and would love to influence the regulatory process, you might think the Harper government was reverting to that old usage. But communism has been redefined in the modern era to mean capitalism without bothersome elections or charters of rights. Communism is now officially good for business, and therefore no longer radical.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline project is a proposal to build twin pipelines, one to transport Alberta tarsands oil to the coastal town of Kitimat B.C., and another to transport imported natural gas back to the tarsands, where it’s used to extract oil. Its proponent, Enbridge, is a multi-national corporation with a long history of pipeline construction, and a safety record it would be kind to call patchy. Among the more than 600 recorded leaks or breaks in Enbridge pipelines in the past 10 years the best known is the 2010 Kalamazoo, Michigan, spill where a broken pipe dumped three million litres into the Kalamazoo River.

The Northern Gateway inquiry got underway in Kitimat this week. Foreign-funded radicals kept a low profile while the hall packed with Mackinawed locals and leaders of the Haisla First Nation, in traditional blanket coats and woven hats. One local showed up to voice support for the project, a plumber in a Super Mario suit. The most radical idea expressed so far has been fear of what an oil spill would do to the fishery.

The proposed pipeline route crosses the traditional territory of five First Nations, where it faces an icy welcome. It crosses the Rocky Mountains, where it is in danger of damage from avalanches. It crosses hundreds of rivers and streams, including five great salmon rivers. At Kitimat the heavy crude is to be pumped into tankers. There has been a moratorium on tanker traffic up the B.C. Coast since 1972, because the rocky coastline and high storms combine to create the extreme risk of a spill.

In short, a pipeline company with a long record of mishaps, including at least one environmental disaster, wants to convince Canadians to give it a shot at one of the most environmentally-risky projects ever undertaken, reversing a 30-year old protection that has been regularly reviewed and always renewed. A word to foreign-funded radicals: don’t waste your backers’ money hijacking this process. It’s going to take some time.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

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