In B.C., Northern Gateway has poisoned the well – by Gary Mason (Globe and Mail – March 22, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

When Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced plans this week to strengthen Canada’s oil-spill defences, critics were swift to disparage the proposed measures.

It was just a cynical effort to deflect widespread criticism the government was receiving in Vancouver for closing the apparently much-loved Kitsilano Coast Guard station, some groused. It was a too-late PR ruse designed to salvage the Northern Gateway pipeline initiative, others said. B.C. New Democratic MP Nathan Cullen maintained that the initiatives were an exercise in greenwashing – a term for efforts designed solely to propagate the perception that an organization’s goals are environmentally friendly.

Intentional or not, Mr. Oliver’s news conference served to illustrate just how poisoned energy policy debate is in Canada, particularly as it pertains to the construction of oil pipelines.

As things stand, there is almost nothing that the federal government can say on this subject – at least in British Columbia – that isn’t going to be immediately denounced. Mr. Oliver can assert that his plan would bring Canada closer to a “world-class” system for oil tanker safety, but few care and fewer still believe him. He could promise that every oil tanker entering the port of Vancouver, or leaving the port of Kitimat, would have eight tugboats surrounding it to guarantee it would never run aground; it wouldn’t matter.

Any reasoned debate on this subject seems impossible at the moment.

I’m not sure there is one party responsible for the current state of affairs, but I would lay much of the blame on the ham-handed way the Northern Gateway pipeline project was rolled out. Enbridge put little effort into laying the groundwork for their plans, perhaps assuming that British Columbia is just like Alberta. Anyone with even a scant knowledge of B.C.’s political and environmental history could have told the company it was going to face stern opposition from activists and first nations.

Because the company did such a poor job of telling its story, of trying to allay concerns people would naturally have over spills on land and water, it completely lost control of the script.

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