One issue dominated coffee-shop talk over the holidays.
The conditional approval decision of the Joint Review Panel on the Northern Gateway seemed to recognize the great potential harm a pipeline would bring to British Columbia, but said the pipeline could still go ahead if every condition was met.
The federal cabinet now has 180 days to make a final decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline.
And if their past actions are any indication, this Conservative cabinet will approve the pipeline.
In the lead up to the panel, the Conservative government weakened environment assessments in successive omnibus Bills since the last election.
Then, the environment minister said that “environmentalists and other radical groups” were the only ones opposed to the pipeline, indicating that he had a deaf ear when it came to legitimate concerns many British Columbians have about environmental damage or title to the land the pipeline would cross.
Our marine ecosystem is very sensitive and it isn’t always easy to understand what may be affecting it. The recent dieoff of sea stars on our coast is one example of that – casual observation shows that it is only affecting the marine invertebrates down to about 70 feet. But no one knows why that depth provides protection from whatever is ravaging the species. As the Cohen report showed, it is often an accumulation of affronts to an ecosystem that leads to the collapse of a fishery. Protection of salmon habitat is crucial to the survival of the species. Since all rivers lead to the ocean, an oil spill on any tributary can affect the sustainability of an entire salmon run.
Over the next 40 years it is the salmon fishery that is going to bring the most dollars to British Columbia, not a pipeline. It makes sense to protect that resource for economic reasons.
And since salmon and other marine organisms support our whole coastal ecosystem, protecting salmon runs compounds the environmental protection for many other species, including bears, old-growth forests and orcas.
New Democrats stand firmly with British Columbians opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. We have been very clear – the Northern Gateway Project puts our jobs and our coastline at risk.
Now, as the Conservative Cabinet begins its decision-making process, it must make the interests of British Columbians a priority.
Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan. She can be reached at 250-746-4896.