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)

Defend Our Coast rally in Victoria: Are you listening, Harper and Clark?

— photos by Heather Conn

Beyond the crowd’s cries of “No pipelines, No tankers,” one woman’s tears and anguished tale exemplified the heart and spirit of yesterday’s Defend Our Coast rally in Victoria, BC.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo (with paper); Clayton Thomas-Muller (r) 

“Our way of life is being replaced by industrialized landscapes,” Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta, told a crowd of about 3,500 in front of the Parliament buildings. “We are surrounded by mines the size of cities.”

Laboucan-Massimo, a Greenpeace campaigner, cried as she described the impact of a May 2011 oil spill, which leaked five million litres into her traditional territory in Alberta’s tar sands region. (The territory, which comprises 10,000 square kilometres in northern Alberta east of the Peace River, contains more than 2,600 oil and gas wells.)

People in her community, of all ages, were suffering burning eyes, nausea, and headaches but didn’t know why, because the federal government did not notify them of the spill until five days after it occurred, which just happened to be the day after the federal election. “They [the federal government] tried so hard to deny that there was a problem. They put my community at risk.”

At this demonstration led by Coastal First Nations, Laboucan-Massimo described how members of her extended family are now afraid to fish or hunt in their territory because they think that eating what they catch, if contaminated as a result of oil extraction, could make them sick. Moose, their traditional food staple, is disappearing due to tar sands’ activity.

Almost 70 percent of Lubicon territory has been leased for future oil development without consent by the Lubicon people and in direct violation of their treaty. “The land and people will never be the same. I continue to carry that grief,” Laboucan-Massimo said, through tears, to extended applause. “We need to stop the tar sands at the source.”

But First Nations groups are fighting back. Laboucan-Massimo said that today, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation will present a constitutional challenge, which they filed earlier this month, in the joint review process against Shell Oil Canada’s application for the expansion of their Jackpine Mine tar sands project.

And a variety of First Nations chiefs and hereditary chiefs from western Canada, clad in ceremonial attire, all declared at yesterday’s rally that they oppose the Enbridge pipeline and will not allow its construction in their territory. Aboriginal singers and drummers repeated this message through their rousing musical beat as the sweet aroma of burning sage wafted into the front of the crowd.

Dave Cole, national president of Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union, challenged the standard rhetoric that pipelines build jobs and the economy. “These pipelines are job killers,” he said to cheers. “These pipelines are bad for the environment. They destroy the economy of Canada.” He added: “First Nations and labour . . . we’re all united in ‘No’ to this pipeline. If they come after one of us, they come after all of us.”

Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, urged attendees to view Canada’s pipelines as part of a broader “carbon corridor,” which includes liquid national gas, fracking, and TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, currently under construction in Texas. She asked the crowd to join in solidarity with the individuals and organizations opposing such mega energy projects. “This [opposition to oil and gas extraction and expansion] is the most important fight that we could have right now,” she said. “Pipelines are the artery, the blood lines of the tar sands. Harper is selling out our environment and heritage for money.” Barlow was heading up to Fort McMurray last night to provide added vocal support to the constitutional challenge by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, meanwhile, warned that the people of B.C. have to send a message to premier Christy Clark to stop FIPA, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement, before it is slated to come into effect on Nov. 1. This treaty gives Chinese-state-owned businesses considerable rights in Canada without any reciprocity for Canadian companies in China. It sets out obligations for Canada which will become binding for a minimum of 15 years (!). What’s worse, it’s slated to be passed without even a parliamentary vote. (For more info on the treaty, read the post on May’s website.)

May offered this challenge: “Christy Clark, get yourself a lawyer.”

The demonstrators, who included children, Raging Grannies, and concerned B.C. residents of all ages with satirical and strident placards, braved the day’s damp cold and mid-afternoon rain. One young woman standing near me asked if I wanted a muffin and handed me a delicious mini one that she had baked herself.

What a delightful offer from a stranger, an act that typified the day’s atmosphere of camaraderie in unity. Some of the First Nations leaders even thanked Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper for bringing unity to their ranks across the west and nation; many tribes and bands are presenting a solid force against his stance of promoting pipelines and the tar sands.

Nicholas Simons

More than 30 people from the Sunshine Coast attended the rally, joining a host of environmental groups, non-profits, unions, and people from many communities across the province, including Tofino, Kamloops, and Prince George. Nicholas Simons, MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, appeared in the crowd to give his support.

Suzanne Senger (left)

Judith Hammill

Sunshine Coast residents Suzanne Senger and Judith Hammill were among those who participated in the group action of stretching a 235-metre-long black banner around the legislative lawn, then staking it into the ground. The cloth banner symbolized the length of an oil supertanker.

Protesters briefly blocked Belleville Street, but there were no arrests or violent acts associated with the demonstration. Co-emcee Clayton Thomas-Muller, of the Indigenous Environmental Network, gave us a reminder from Gilbert Soloman: “We need to fight this fight with love in our hearts.”

The rally was held to give a broad public message that British Columbians overwhelmingly oppose the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, the planned twinning of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, and oil supertankers on Canada’s west coast. The Enbridge pipeline would transport  Alberta oil sands bitumen to Kitimat for export to Asia.



For more info, see Defend Our Coast.

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October 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm Comment (1)

Does Harper leave us room for hope?

Rachel Carson

If Rachel Carson, a biologist and author of Silent Spring, were alive today, she’d likely be one of those people that federal natural resources minister Joe Oliver would condemn as a “radical environmentalist” with “a radical ideological agenda.”


In her compelling book, published in 1962 by Houghton Mifflin, Carson warned of the deadly impact that DDT and other chemicals had on the food chain, from insects and birds to fish, the earth, and humanity itself. Her book produced a firestorm of contempt and anger from scientists, academics, and politicians. She was dismissed as an ignorant female, a fear mongerer, and someone guilty of misguided science. Yet, her vision of how toxins affect the interconnectedness of life – a concept rarely mentioned in public at the time – proved prescient and correct. Her book helped lead to the banning of DDT in North America.


A half-century later, today’s environmentalists face similar vicious bite-back and dismissal for their concern about the Northern Gateway pipeline and the potential impact of oil supertankers on the B.C. coast. How truly insulting to have politicians such as Oliver and prime minister Harper, who are supposed to be looking after the people’s interests,  demonize those who simply care about the planet’s future, fish and wildlife, and the livelihood of those who depend on both. Shame on them both.


Even our local Tory MP, John Weston, dismissed local Sunshine Coast residents who criticized the policies of Harper and the Conservative party at his recent public meeting in Sechelt. He said that these meetings attract “negative elements.” In that statement, he has shown that he holds little interest in truly listening to his voters, the community that he is supposed to represent. He has minimized the voices of concerned seniors, teens, and those of all ages in between. Shame on him.


Harper’s government repeatedly demonstrates what little value it places on the power of democracy and the value of a healthy environment. Oliver has said that only those directly affected by the Enbridge pipeline should be allowed to speak at the current National Energy Board hearings. That eliminates the voices of hundreds of citizens (and voters). He might as well say: The vote of person A is worth more than the vote of person B.


Oliver continues to strive to speed up the hearings and strip the federal Fisheries Act of regulatory teeth while Harper nuzzles closer to more oil and trade deals with China and Japan. They both make heroes of those who care about oil profits, and villains of those who want to ensure a healthy, sustainable planet. (Like the F.B.I., who harassed anti-war groups in the 1960s and 1970s, Harper is investigating environmental groups for their “foreign” support. Yet he seeks and extols the “foreign support” of Chinese investors and oil companies in Alberta’s tar sands.)


Life, the earth, and its people are far more multi-layered than the prime minister’s simplistic, dualistic model of good versus evil. Overall, Harper is a threat to democratic principles and needs to be removed from office through a vote of non-confidence.


Two days ago, at Earth Day celebrations in Roberts Creek, Donna Shugar, director of the Sunshine Coast Regional District, mentioned how challenging it is to feel hopeful in today’s environmental climate. I agree. Yet as long as people continue to speak out, protest collectively, choose to consume less and grow more organic food, exercise their vote, and support groups that work to protect our planet, we still have room for hope.

We need to take back the right to choose what is in B.C.’s public interest. Take action by writing a letter to Premier Clark (premier@gov.bc.ca), with a cc to your MLA, asking for her to take Northern Gateway off the list of projects under the Equivalency Agreement.  Once the National Energy Board submits its findings, we will have bound ourselves to it. We already know what the federal government has decided.

(Kudos to the students at Windermere High School in east Vancouver who hosted an interactive program on Earth Day.  They set up a 3-D walking course, made to scale in the same representation as some of B.C.’s coastline, and had participants, who “wore” boxes as if they were oil tankers, try to navigate the route. What a great way to bring home a message!)

For more on this subject, I heartily recommend reading Open Letter to Premier Christy Clark by Robyn Allan, posted on April 19, 2012. Allan is a former CEO and president of the Insurance Corporation of B.C.


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April 24, 2012 at 9:19 am Comments (0)