Has anyone polled First Nations about the Northern Gateway pipeline?
By Markham Hislop, editor
Both sides of the Northern Gateway pipeline issue released polls lately supporting their positions, but the people who really matter were left out.
Monday Calgary-based Enbridge and a group of 12 environmental organizations fired the latest salvo in the bitter fight for public opinion over the 1,177 kilometre pipeline that is proposed to carry Alberta oil sands bitumen to a marine terminal at Kitimat, BC for shipment to Asian markets.
Release of the polls followed a statement from federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that Ottawa will review the environmental review process to keep foreign “radical groups” from slowing approval of the pipeline, which is considered critical to the oil sands whose production is forecast to double from 1.5 million to 3 million barrels per day in just six years.
The environmentalists have Oliver squarely in their sights. They claim 75 per cent of British Columbians are worried about foreign investment in Canadian natural resources but only 15 per cent are concerned about charitable funding provided by US philanthropic foundations (the aforementioned radical groups) to Canadian environmental groups.
“These poll results suggest that the oil lobby’s attacks against environmental groups are out of touch with the true values of British Columbians, ” said Will Horter, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative.
Let’s take a look at that poll, shall we? Any time I see such large percentages for or against a very public issue I’m suspicious. Sure enough, it’s an “online random poll” that was conducted in April 2011. Telephone polls conducted by reputable companies have problems, but online polls are almost impossible to believe because of the possibility for error. All it would take is one or two people from the commissioning organizations to post a link on their Facebook page and the poll would be badly skewed.
Sorry, simply not credible.
But the Enbridge poll conducted by Ipsos Reid doesn’t look all that rosy, either. The good news for Enbridge is that 48 per cent of 1,000 British Columbians surveyed support the pipeline, compared to 32 per cent that don’t.
But that’s not great news. If you’re Stephen Harper trying to win a majority government you’d call it an overwhelming lead; if you’re the promoter of a controversial project tied to the perennially controversial Alberta oil sands, you’re not out in front by much.
“Judging by this poll, the people of B.C. are far more open-minded on Northern Gateway than the activists would give them credit for,” said Paul Stanway, manager of communications for Northern Gateway.
Sure, but 55 per cent weren’t familiar with Northern Gateway (25 per cent were “not at all familiar” and 30 per cent were “not very familiar”).
And while the polling firm says the “data were statistically weighted to ensure the sample’s regional and age/sex composition reflects that of the actual B.C. population,” I don’t see a reference to First Nations or northern respondents, without which any poll is meaningless.
What a Vancouver stock broker or a Kamloops doctor or a Richmond cottage owner thinks of the Northern Gateway pipeline is irrelevant. Residents of northern Canada have long suffered the pious fly-in southerner who lands for a month of vacation each year, then thinks he or she can tell the locals how to manage their environment.
The same criticism holds true for environmental groups, regardless of where they receive their mail. Yes, we live in a global village. And, yes, our ecosystems are inter-connected and what happens in Canada affects other parts of the world.
But that doesn’t mean protests by eco-warriors for rent should receive the same weight as local stakeholders, the people who might have to live with the proposed pipeline. Which in general means northerners, but mostly means First Nations.
Approximately 4,000 people have registered to present during the travelling public consultations that are part of the regulatory review. How many of them are First Nations?
The Yinka Dene Alliance, which represents five First Nations opposed to the pipeline, says it has chosen not to participate in the review.
“The fix is in with this government. How can any Canadian trust that the Enbridge review process will be conducted fairly and independently with Harper breathing down the review panel’s neck?” said Chief Larry Nooski of Nadleh Whut’en First Nation.
“We’re not foreign – these are our lands. To imply that our decision against Enbridge has been manipulated is deeply disrespectful of First Nations people, and our many neighbours who have joined our cause and support our decision to refuse this pipeline.”
For the most part, First Nations are on the outside looking in. Enbridge has been criticized for being arrogant and not working hard enough to build relationships with the First Nations along the pipeline route. Stanway says the company continues to negotiate with some Bands and it expects to conclude more agreements (a partnership with the Gitxsan Treaty Office has run afoul of some chiefs, who claim they have terminated the agreement, though as of last week Enbridge had not been notified).
If most First Nations boycott the review process, then how much legitimacy will the project have in northern BC if it’s approved? One would think almost none.
I wouldn’t want to be Enbridge, trying to build hundreds of kilometres of pipeline through the territory of angry and determined First Nations.
Forget about the environmental groups. Forget about BC residents in the lower mainland.
The only stakeholders who really matter are the First Nations along the pipeline route and on the coast (who could be affected by a tanker spill).
When Northern Gateway proponents or opponents begin polling First Nations, we’ll know they’re serious.
Category: First Nations
About the Author (Author Profile)
Markham began his journalism career writing columns in the mid-1980s for Western People Magazine, then reported for a small Saskatchewan daily. He has spent most of his career in media and communications, likes to dabble in politics, was actively involved in economic development for many years, thinks that what goes on in the community is just as important as what happens provincially and nationally, and has a soft spot for small business (big business, not so much). Markham is a bit of a contrarian and usually has a unique take on the events of the day.
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