Steve Harper has a real problem. It's a bunch of little people in little boats. They call themselves the Gitga'at Nation and their ancestral home is in Hartley Bay.
The Gitga'at live and earn their living just around the corner from the site Harper's patrons, Enbridge, have chosen for their supertanker port to ship Athabasca bitumen to Asian markets.
If you're not familiar with that territory, here's a quick rundown. Big tides, strong currents, high winds, narrow and twisty channels, rugged coastline, rocky islands and submerged outcroppings and very, very deep water. In short it's probably the worst possible location for a supertanker oil port.
Tankers, like any other ship, have mishaps. Engines breakdown, instruments go wonky, steering fails, fires break out, ships collide, humans err. You can't anchor in 600 feet of water while you tend to repairs. You can't even beach a ship up there. It's the rocks and the bottom.
You don't have to tell the Gitga'at any of this. They know their home waters better than anyone and that's why they have vowed to fight Harper's sludge-driven madness. We're quite experienced dealing with unruly natives. Sometimes we lock them up. Sometimes we even shoot them. Only not this time, not the Gitga'at.
The Gitga'at are heroes in this province. When the BC ferry Queen of the North hit a rock and began sinking, this small band of native fishermen took to their small boats in the dark of night to rescue the passengers and crew. They took them to safety and put them up in their homes. They saved a lot of lives that night. And there's Steve Harper's problem, one he won't be able to sweep aside.
If the people of British Columbia have to choose between the Gitga'at and an Alberta pipeline company, that won't go Harper's way.
Steve has already made some unfortunate remarks that may come back to haunt him:
“There were a lot of policies being quoted by the other parties, whether it’s on West Coast transportation or the energy sector, that simply did not reflect the needs and concerns of this part of the country,” Mr. Harper declared in Calgary Tuesday morning, after clinching victory the night before.
“I actually argued during the campaign that the policies of our opponents were actually quite dangerous to the country as a whole, but obviously some specific policies seemed to be almost targeted to do damage to Western Canada,” he said.
Steve, like the autocrat that he is, is used to being obeyed. He hasn't had to deal with serious confrontation, civil disobedience like what's brewing up north. On behalf of Alberta oil giants he's preparing to steamroller the people of coastal British Columbia. Steve doesn't like dissent over piddly things like West Coast supertanker catastrophe and I don't see him backing down on this.
Harper wants to conduct his own Ipperwash.
Except, it's not simply one divided Indian Band he's up against. It's sixty-one reserves he's determined to drive this monstrosity through. Does he have enough RCMP?
I have trouble imagining how Harper thinks this pipeline won't be attacked. The more I've learned about the acids, toxins and heavy metals in this corrosive sludge the more insane it seems to be running it across BC and then loading it into oil tankers to run the coastal gauntlet.
Will Harper offer handsome compensation to the First Nations for their co-operation? There are lots of well paying jobs in the Tar Sands, or perhaps lucrative, long terms land leases? If it comes to environmental war, perhaps Canadians will start paying attention.
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