In August 2014, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau made the trek to the tiny Gitga’at community of Hartley Bay, located along Enbridge’s proposed oil tanker route in northwestern B.C.
There, in the village of 200 people accessible only by air and water, he met with community elders and Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations.
“He came to Gitga’at because he wanted to make sure he was making the right decision in terms of Northern Gateway and being there certainly confirmed that,” Sterritt told DeSmog Canada on Tuesday.
“My confidence level went up immensely when Justin … visited Gitga’at.”
Two months before that visit, in May 2014, Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that if he became prime minister “the Northern Gateway Pipeline will not happen.”
With Monday’s majority win by Trudeau, Sterritt — who retired three weeks ago from his role with Coastal First Nations — says he is “elated” and “Northern Gateway is now dead.”
“I know they’re going to live up to the commitments that they’ve made. I have absolutely no doubt about that,” Sterritt said, while taking a break from carving a totem pole. “Tears of joy will be flowing in Gitga’at.”
The fight against the 525,000-barrel-a-day oilsands pipeline goes back more than a decade.
“We’ve gone through some tough times with all that’s been peddled in the past decade, especially the last few years — all that’s been done to pave the way for oil,” Sterritt said.
“There were many, many, many people who worked every day to stop Northern Gateway from jeopardizing everything we stand for.”
Gerald Amos, former elected chief of Haisla, told DeSmog Canada communities are going to have to keep up that fight to make sure the project dies.
“There’s a pretty darn good sense now that it won’t see the light of day,” Amos said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for Justin Trudeau to make it happen, but promises are promises.”
That “challenge” will be in the form of corporate pressure, Amos said.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the power of the corporations,” he said. “I think that there’s going to be a lot of pressure come to bear on them from the corporate world.”
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach is also cautiously optimistic.
“There are probably community leaders and First Nations and people all across the northwest waking up this morning with a sense of relief that that particular pipeline is no longer looming over our heads,” Bachrach told DeSmog Canada.
“It’s been a long road and it’s brought people together, but it will be nice to move on to other conversations about the future of our region.”
Bachrach said it’s too early to say definitively that Northern Gateway is dead, but added: “Mr. Trudeau has made clear commitments to the region and I look forward to having him follow through.”
Enbridge did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Terry Teegee, tribal chief for the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council, said he’s always been confident Northern Gateway will be defeated due to court cases led by two Carrier-Sekani communities.
But he also emphasized that communities can’t let up until the project is dead for sure.
“I hope he lives up to that commitment and kills the project,” Teegee said. “Now that we have them in a place where we want them, we can’t let up politically or judicially until the project is dropped.”
Fighting Enbridge “has cost a lot of energy and a lot of resources and a lot of our time,” Teegee said.
But the fight has also brought communities together.
“We really are testing our rights and title, we’re testing our mettle as people. It really helped us develop relationships beyond our asserted title,” Teegee said.
“Asserting our rights and title collectively, we can really determine our own future, we can determine how development happens in our territory, we can determine what happens on a national scale. It would really send a message to oil and gas companies that it’s not ‘business as usual.’ You really need consent of First Nations."
Teegee thinks the battle over Northern Gateway has planted the seeds for a more proactive, productive conversation about the future.
“The next step is to keep the momentum going and start really discussing our issues. I think we need to have a real talk about energy and having an energy strategy for our people,” he said.
Sterritt said ultimately the Conservatives misjudged British Columbia.
“Harper and Joe Oliver made the mistake of thinking they were going to bully their way through British Columbia,” Sterritt added. “They realized they made a mistake and have been pretty quiet for a long time.”
Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal hasn’t been the only oil pipeline proposed for northern B.C., however.
“We’ve got lots of noise,” Sterritt said. “We’ve got Mr. Black pushing for a refinery. You’ve got Eagle Spirit proposing something similar. But these are all just proposals. I think in light of how the people in the Pacific Northwest look at their place, I think these other projects are going to be hard-pressed to try to move ahead in the wake of Northern Gateway.”
In June 2010, the Liberal Party of Canada declared its support for legislation banning oil tankers on B.C.’s north coast. If that legislation is passed, it will spell the end of all oil tanker proposals for northern B.C.
Trudeau has also said the review process of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil export plan, which would see hundreds of oil tankers a year transit Vancouver’s harbour, will need to be re-done.
Image: Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Art Sterritt walk on the boardwalk in Hartley Bay, B.C.
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