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)

Celebrate this week’s Gospel Rock victory

When elected officials bend to the will of the people and vote accordingly on important community issues, it is a rare and beautiful thing. We enjoyed such a momentous event three days ago, when the five-person city council in Gibsons, BC voted unanimously in favour of leaving the Gospel Rock waterfront as undeveloped greenspace. Wow. And council will not consider related issues to the proposed Gospel Rock development, such as density, access, and its impact on the town’s aquifer, for another five years.


What a surprise! This truly unexpected decision brought shocked looks from councillors Lee Ann Johnson and Dan Bouman and tears from Mayor Wayne Rowe and councillor Charlene SanJenko. I can’t interpret councillor Gerry Tretick’s expression because I wasn’t there. I was one of the cynics who had assumed that the full Gospel Rock development was a done deal and wanted to avoid seeing that confirmed at Tuesday’s meeting.


Boy, am I glad that I was wrong. This vote renews my faith in the ability of a small group of committed people to change the minds of decision-makers and create positive change. Some people in our community have been fighting to protect Gospel Rock for decades. We all choose our level of involvement in any issue, and for some, it’s enough to attend meetings, perhaps write the occasional letter to the editor, or speak at a public hearing. That’s all worthy activism. But it always takes people in the trenches with a vision and ideals, who persevere over months and years to plan strategy and meetings, raise funds, send emails, lick envelopes, and keep the message rolling on, and most important of all—to never give up—to make the ultimate difference. That includes both individuals and groups like Friends of Gospel Rock.


Last night, at a victory party at a Gower Point Road home, many people from those trenches and ones who spoke out at last week’s public hearing gathered to celebrate this week’s decision. (At that hearing, only three people from a speaker’s list of about 50, spoke in favour of the bylaw amendment to incorporate the Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Plan into Gibsons’ Official Community Plan bylaw 985, 2005. For more details on that, see my post “Preservationists dominate public hearing for bylaw amendment.”)


Having people from the community of all ages speak out did, indeed, make a difference. Yahoo! This latest decision has given renewed fire to those who want to raise funds to create the Gospel Rock area as a park. Sure, this latest waterfront development issue could be a mere bargaining chip in a larger process, and decisions made to woo voters is always at play, but that doesn’t matter. You will always find people who care and ultimately vote from their heart, even at unexpected times and places. A community rallied, made its views known, and the people’s representatives heard. That’s sweet success.

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October 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm Comment (1)

Preservationists dominate public hearing for bylaw amendment

While the fight to save Gospel Rock in Gibsons, BC has continued for decades, last Thursday’s public hearing at Elphinstone Secondary was the last chance for community members to express their views regarding the related bylaw amendment. (The second reading of the amendment came on July 31.)

When I arrived early and saw many rows of empty seats, I was afraid that the proceedings regarding the amendment (#985-8 2012) to incorporate the Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Plan into Gibsons’ Official Community Plan bylaw 985, 2005 would move ahead with little local feedback.

But by the 6 p.m. start, hundreds of people had already filled seats. Within about 20 minutes, the speaker’s list had more than 40 names. Within the first hour, passionate voices to preserve Gospel Rock, plus those who did not support the neighbourhood plan in its existing form, outnumbered the pro-amendment people by roughly seven to one.

Those in favour of the amendment said that they thought the consultation process had gone on long enough. They acknowledged that the existing plan wasn’t perfect, but felt it was a catalyst for moving forward.

Lorne Lewis, Sunshine Coast Regional District director for Area E (Elphinstone) spoke against the amendment, charging that the current plan for waterfront development was “unsafe and unpalatable,” making access to the proposed area dangerous.
Another speaker recommended creating a nonprofit society and raising money to make Gospel Rock a park, in the same way that the region’s Francis Pt. Peninsula Provincial Park was created. But political will is needed for such an action, she pointed out.
Here is an overview of the opinions expressed against the bylaw amendment and existing neighbourhood plan:
  •  the waterfront is not preserved
  • a development would threaten Gibsons’ aquifer and the town’s water supply
  • it doesn’t follow the policies of the OCP, especially regarding densities
  • it lacks smart-growth policies
  • it doesn’t save forest for community use or protect biodiversity
  • it removes the existing wildlife corridor
  • there is no mention of geothermal energy
  • it threatens Seaward Creek
  • the east part of the proposed waterfront area is an unstable geotechnical zone
  • it doesn’t take into consideration the impact of global warming
  • it doesn’t consider the impact of additional traffic onto Chaster and Pratt Roads
  • the proposed access does not meet fire regulations and requirements by provincial government’s transportation ministry
  • it ignores the area’s designation as sensitive ecological inventory, as defined by the province.

Gibsons Council will vote on the bylaw amendment tomorrow, Oct. 16, at its regular meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. The community group Friends of Gospel Rock encourages concerned citizens to attend.



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October 15, 2012 at 4:36 pm Comments (0)