|Protesters with the Idle No More movement rally outside the Sandman Inn, where the National Energy Board held a one-day hearing into the Enbridge pipeline proposal. The hearing was closed to the general public.|
The quiet decorum of the National Energy Board hearing inside the Sandman Inn contrasted with the party atmosphere in the parking lot metres away. More than 200 people sang, danced, waved signs and railed against the Northern Gateway Project, a proposed pipeline that would carry bitumen from Alberta's oilsands across northern B.C. to
supertankers docked at Kitimat.
"Our land is not for sale. It's native land. We're here to protect the land, protect the environment for Mother Earth. Enbridge is just trying to . . . rape our land," said Nadine Jules, a member of Westbank First Nation.
Emotions are hot as the three-member review panel criss-crosses the province collecting oral submissions on the $5-billion pipeline proposal. Five demonstrators were arrested two weeks ago after barging into a Vancouver hearing.
Monday's hearing in Kelowna
coincided with Idle No More's Global Day of Action, drawing people from as far as Nelson, the West Coast and the Similkameen. Citing safety concerns, organizers barred most of the public from attending the Kelowna hearing. Spectators were directed to the Holiday Inn to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV.
Brian James, who moved to Kelowna last summer from Bella Coola on the Coast, held a "Stop Harper" sign.
"We have to save our fish," he said. "If they have a busted (pipe)line, it's going to travel everywhere
. . . We're a fishing community in Bella Coola, so it's really important we don't have this oil going through the water. That's what we live off of - our fish."
Fear of an oil spill in Hecate Strait or a leak through the Great Bear rainforest pervaded the morning session of the all-day hearing. Presenters told the panel the project threatens endangered species on land and offshore, and advocated for other sources of energy besides oil.
Farlie Paynter broke down as he argued for cold fusion as a new energy source. He said five companies are now producing one-megawatt reactors using nickel powder and hydrogen gas.
"Why aren't we getting this (information) out?" he said choking up. "It's really bad. This world is dying. I'm sorry, we're in a bad way."
The pipeline would extend through the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, said Karen Siemens. Seventeen aquatic species are at risk in the area, and seven of them communicate by sound waves.
"Increased tanker traffic would be harmful to these species. It interferes with their communication for feeding, breeding and escaping prey," she said.
"This is a delicate ecosystem that needs all of its components to stay healthy . . . We're human. Humans make mistakes, and one mistake in this fragile environment is one mistake too much."
Peter Stockdale pointed to Enbridge's "proven incompetence" when responding to previous oil spills. The company took 48 hours to fix a pipeline leak that spewed more than 800,000 gallons of oil into Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.
Michael Jesson of Nelson accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of cheerleading fossil-fuel development when he should be focusing on other energy sources and retrofitting Canadian homes to halve our energy consumption, he said.
"This continued looking for other sources of energy doesn't have to occur until we get our consumption and waste under control. We're way beyond the Earth's means," he said. "We need to be a zero-carbon economy."
The threat of climate change dominated Monday's hearing. Several accused Harper of pushing an agenda that increases greenhouse gases and prolongs the world's addiction to oil.
"Oil and gas development is not sustainable," said Rachel Darvill of Golden. "When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals are hunted, when all the water's polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money."
Dr. Warren Bell likened Harper to a king, given the veto power of his office, and blamed the rise of corporate influence for the "pathological state" we're in today.
"If Harper doesn't like your report, he can - and by every indication he will - shelve it," Bell said. "The Enbridge consortium is applying to expand its Kitimat terminal from 11 to 16 oiltanks. What clearer demonstration of absolute confidence in an eventual approval could there possibly be?"
Thirty presenters spoke for up to 10 minutes each. The panel is expected to release its report by late December. The federal government then decides whether to approve the project.