• The Gateway Joint Review panel has come to town and left again. I was one of the hundreds of official interveners allowed to deliver a 10-minute talk. It was the only “public” hearing I have ever attended that was not public! With heavy police presence everywhere, the public was not allowed into the speakers’ room. The only way for the public to watch the hearings was via a TV screen, located 13 city blocks away at the Westin Bayshore.
At the Sheraton Wall Centre where the hearings took place, the speakers were put into a waiting room. We were told we were not allowed to ask the panel any questions and then three of us at a time were escorted into the speakers’ room. We were seated at a table facing the three members of the panel. Seated at another table were two Enbridge representatives. Further back in the small room, someone manned the media equipment and a court reporter was also present.
To be able to address the panel, one had to register no later than October 2011. No reason was ever given for why only members of the public who signed up more than a year and a half in advance were allowed to make a presentation. I was the third speaker. I listened with keen interest to the articulate, well-researched presentations of the two speakers sitting next to me. As soon as the first one was finished, the chair of the panel would say, “Thank you for your presentation. Next speaker please.” No questions, no pause, no reflection, no request for clarification, just a directive by the chairperson to the next speaker: “Please begin your presentation.”
When my turn came up I said, “I am opposed to this pipeline for powerful economic and environmental reasons. This pipeline would be financed by foreign money and as these billions of foreign investment dollars would flow in, the exchange value of the Canadian dollar would rise. Then when the pipeline is completed, our export of oil would go up by many billions of dollars and the exchange rate would rise again. While a strong Canadian dollar may sound good, in this case, there would be some drastic consequences. It would trigger huge increases in cross-border shopping and additional declines in our ailing manufacturing, tourist and film industries. Not so long ago when our dollar was worth 75 cents US, cross-border shopping was a non-issue. Now, with the dollar at or above parity, cross-border shopping has become a hemorrhage. The Canadian Retail Council tells us that cross-border shopping is a $20 billion hole. In other words, Canadians spend $20 billion per year, but they’re spending it in the US, not in Canada. In retailing, for every $200,000 in sales, there is approximately one job. So $20 billion in lost sales means 100,000 lost jobs. As the exchange value of the loonie rose steadily from 2002 to 2007, the Canadian manufacturing industry lost approximately 250,000 jobs. The tourist industry and the film industry, both big employers, are ailing.”
Continuing my presentation I said, “The Gateway pipeline, the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the proposed natural gas pipelines and liquefaction plants and the Site C dam (which would not even be needed if these projects were to be cancelled) – would all be financed by an inflow of foreign investment. The Canadian dollar would definitely appreciate. All of these projects would lead to big increases in the export of hydro carbons so the Canadian dollar would appreciate again. Compared to the job losses in retailing and manufacturing, the jobs created by the Gateway Pipeline would be insignificant: 2,000 temporary jobs during year one of construction, 3,000 temporary jobs during year two and 2,000 temporary jobs during year three. After that no more construction jobs, only a few hundred permanent jobs to run and maintain the pipeline.
To bolster its claim that the pipeline is in the public interest, Enbridge, using flawed analysis, claims there will be thousands of induced or indirect jobs created. Their basic assumption is that all the skilled welders, the engineering firms, the surveyors etc., building the pipeline would be unemployed if the pipeline were not built. This assumption is absurd. Businesses in Northern BC are lamenting the shortages of skilled labour and pressuring government to allow the import of foreign labour. If the pipeline were not built, these resources would be employed elsewhere. These Enbridge claims really need to be peer reviewed and the peers should not be paid by the oil industry. Furthermore, Enbridge has not committed itself to using Canadian made pipe, nor has it informed Canadians that the price for gasoline, diesel and heating oil will rise if this pipeline is built. No longer would the North American price be below the prices in Asia or Europe.
Along its entire route through BC, this pipeline runs through earthquake country. From 1929 to 2013, there were five major quakes offshore and near the coast: one measuring seven on the Richter scale, three measuring around 7.5, and one measuring 8.1. The big subduction quake that historically has happened every 150 to 200 years is overdue. That one will measure around nine on the Richter scale. It will wipe out the loading facilities in Kitimat and rupture the pipeline in countless places. It will suck the water out of Douglas Sound and tankers in the sound will sit on the bottom and break apart and the water will return in a huge tidal wave. Tar sand oil spilled in the ocean or large rivers cannot be cleaned up. After a short time on the surface, it sinks to the bottom. Tides or river current will spread it around and conventional skimming methods are useless. Any talk about ‘world class cleaning facilities’ is an attempt to deceive the public!”
Finally I said, “If your panel recommends that this pipeline is in the public interest, when a spill happens you, and only you, will be blamed. The politicians will hide behind your backs, arguing they are blameless because they trusted you. You will be remembered as the short-sighted fools who brought on the catastrophe. If you recommend against this pipeline and cabinet overrules you, when a spill happens you will be celebrated as having had great wisdom and foresight and all the blame will fall on the politicians (where it belongs).”
After my presentation, many uncomfortable thoughts went through my mind. Was this a real hearing or was it just a farce? Had the panel made up its mind a long time ago and was just going through the motions? Why was the public excluded while two Enbridge representatives were allowed to witness the whole thing? Why were there only two evening sessions and no weekend sessions? Why was there no webcast allowing the public to follow the proceedings on the internet? Why was it made impossible for people working between nine and five to listen to the presentations of our concerned fellow citizens? Was this a deliberate attempt to manage the message and to make sure the message reached as few ears as possible?
Reimar Kroecher is a retired economist who taught economics at Langara College for 33 years. He holds degrees in economics from UBC and UCLA. For further information, visit www.dogwoodinitiative.org, www.wcel.org, ecojustice.ca and www.davidsuzuki.org