Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

MLA tells Defend Our Coast supporters: “You’ve done the Sunshine Coast proud”

— Heather Conn photos

Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons with Sechelt band elder Theresa Jeffries

This was no Sesame Street public spelling bee. And Big Bird and Elmo were nowhere to be seen. Instead, dozens of local people lined Highway 101 yesterday in Davis Bay, BC., each holding a white sign with a different single letter, which collectively spelled out the phrases: “No Tankers,” “No Pipelines,” and “Defend Our Coast.”



These were some of the 500+ Sunshine Coast residents who gathered along both sides of the highway as a public, collective voice to reinforce that most British Columbians are against the Northern Gateway pipeline, proposed by Enbridge, and do not want supertankers off their coast.

Local school trustee Lori Dixon

As a symbolic gesture, the line of protesters extended roughly 235 metres, to represent the length of a supertanker along the Sunshine Coast. Event organizers placed two hand-painted white sandwich boards next to the highway to indicate where the tanker’s bow and stern, respectively, would appear.

“They [tankers] can’t turn, they can’t stop and they’d take eight kilometres to stop for an emergency,” Jef Keighley of Alliance 4 Democracy, one of the main organizers, told protesters. They gathered in the Beach Buoy parking lot at 1 p.m. after their one-and-a-half-hour public action. “And that’s in open waters with no navigational hazards.”

At least 90 percent of drivers who passed the demonstrators honked their horns in support, according to one of the letter-card holders, who did not want to be identified. This included drivers of commercial heavy-duty trucks, dump truck operators, people in luxury vehicles, and not surprisingly, Smart cars.

One irate male senior stopped his grey van on the highway, rolled down his window and hollered at protesters: “Did you drive to this event? How did you get here?” (He presumably found it hypocritical to burn gasoline to get to an event protesting oiltankers and pipelines.) Increasingly enraged, he repeated his questions until driving off.


The protest, which featured homemade signs by people of all ages, was peaceful. It included members of the Sechelt First Nations band, such as elder Theresa Jeffries and local school trustee Lori Dixon, plus teachers from the region, and representatives from the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association. Local RCMP officers were on hand to ensure the safety of participants and asked them to move back farther onto the shoulder, away from the highway.

After the event, demonstrators heard rousing roadside comments, via megaphone, from Keighley, local activist George Smith, and Nicholas Simons, NDP MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast. Keighley pointed out that unlike Norway, which captures about 70 percent of the value of its oil, Canada (via Alberta) receives only one per cent in royalties from the gross (not net) value of its bitumen. (Bitumen is the heaviest, thickest form of oil, which Alberta wants to transport from the tar sands via the Enbridge pipeline to Kitimat for initial processing. Then supertankers would take it through the fragile coastal B.C. coast waters and to China for final refining.)

After all of the related capital cost improvements are made, such as building the Enbridge pipeline, tanker terminal etc, Canada would receive only 25 percent of the net value, which will amount to less than one percent in royalties, said Keighley.

“We’re paying the cost to the environment and in jobs,” he said. “This is bad for B.C., bad for Alberta and for the Canadian economy.”

Smith, who has been active in the fight to stop the Site C dam in northeastern British Columbia, outlined the connection between that megaproject and the Enbridge pipeline and tar sands. The provincial government wants to use water power from the proposed new dam for fracking, in the search for natural gas, and for Shell Canada’s liquid natural gas project in northern B.C., he said. The gas would be shipped to the tar sands, then the oil sent to the coast via the pipeline. This, in turn, would enable oil and gas companies to export their product more cheaply to Asia.

“B.C. gives $300 million a year in royalty and tax breaks to oil and gas companies,” Smith said. “They [the B.C. government] are planning to eliminate 83 kilometres of rivers and 13,000 acres of class one farmland [to build Site C].”

Standing on a picnic table not far from his local constituency office, Simons acknowledged that the gathering was on traditional Salish territory. He told the group: “You’ve done the Sunshine Coast proud. Our voices are not solo voices. They are a choir of voices in the right key for the right people to hear.”

The Davis Bay protest was one of dozens of Defend Our Coast actions held yesterday across the province, including demonstrators linking arms outside MLA offices. Defend Our Coast told local organizers that the Davis Bay event was likely the biggest one of the 65 related events around British Columbia. Many thanks to all who participated and helped plan and organize the Sunshine Coast action, including the flyover pilot and photographer (you know who you are).

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October 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm Comments (0)

Still the Earth remains

About a year ago, I wrote the following  for a local chapbook that didn’t end up getting published and have decided to share it here instead.


In my dream, you were the same whale that I saw: that message was clear.

A whale in a night vision, some sources say, helps the dreamer overcome fear, especially of death. You, dad, came to me in silence, from the sea, that realm of dark depths that Jung called a vast swell of emotion. I understood. You had transformed.

In the week after you died, I dreamed of the grey whale, saw the large dorsal fin, a white triangle of barnacles, bobbing too close to the beach in Davis Bay. In daytime life, I had grumbled at the cars stopped bumper to bumper one August morning, clogging the bay, not knowing who was blocking traffic. Then I saw everyone staring, out to sea, in the same direction. Whale: the one I had never seen for months, while others gloated or exclaimed over their sightings. The whale was at Roberts Creek beach all day Sunday. You missed it. A friend in Halfmoon Bay on the phone: I can hear him. Oh, there he is right now.

At last, when I had my glimpse of the sea creature rocking slowly, its languid movements swishing the ocean surface into an oval of flat water, I stopped, parked, and crossed the road in Davis Bay to gawk. I didn’t even take out my camera. I wanted to witness it directly, without a barrier, to honour such animal presence without the capture-the-moment eye that distances and objectifies, to share an open gaze of respect for this rare beast for here.

In my dream, I wasn’t sure how to respond to your whale visit. With the slow thrust of a fin you were there, then gone. Was this image meant to reassure me? Beyond the sea, where did you come from?

I worried about the real whale. It stayed between the beach and the floating raft, only about five metres offshore, in such shallow water that I feared it would beach itself. Scientists say that when whales stay close to land, they are sick or dying.

While you lay dying, you spoke from fantasy worlds fuelled by pain medication. I tried to enter these realms by talking into them with you. You thought that you were a prisoner of war, about to get released. Three weeks before your death, you were ready to go, but I did not know then, even though I’d read a book on the symbolic language of the dying.

From the beach, I could share others’ excitement at seeing such a huge marine mammal, but still worried. Last year, more whales and dolphins visited our coast than in many decades past. The ocean waters are warming. Did climate change bring us this cytacean celebrity? In multiple cultures, a whale is a swimming library, keeper of the records and history of Mother Earth, the next sign of Earth changes.

I did not see the grey whale again. I looked for it and longed to view it, but like you, it had gone.

Now I mourn for the whale’s magnificence and you. You both came to me, free in a timeless, fluid mass. You have transformed. Where will the whale end up? Still the Earth remains.

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January 7, 2012 at 11:46 am Comments (2)