WWF-Canada Blog:

Northern Gateway: An unacceptable and unmanageable risk

To all those members of the public whose participation has been restricted to listening from a distance: I am disappointed that you can’t be here, and I thank you for following these hearings nonetheless.

I work with the World Wildlife Fund, but that is not why I am addressing the Joint Review Panel.  If anything, the causal connection works in the opposite direction: my alarm about the  proposal to bring heavy oil pipelines and oil tanker traffic to BC’s north coast was a key factor in my decision, just a few years ago, to change my career and start working with the conservation sector. So today I’m not speaking on behalf of any organization, but as an individual Canadian and a long-time resident of the BC coast.

I’ve lived in various communities on the BC coast for decades. Our children were born here. We eat from the sea, we built a house by the sea, we swim in and sail on and play by the sea. A couple of years ago, when she was ten years old, our daughter started taking Andy Lamb’s encyclopaedic Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest to bed as her night-time reading. Last spring, when he was ten years old, our son paddled his kayak out into the strait in front of our house, and into the midst of a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins. To our family this coast is not just a place to live and work: it is a source of joy and inspiration and excitement.

Darcy with the Hope Whale installation bearing messages of community concern outside the Northern Gateway hearings in Vancouver (c) Jo Anne Walton/WWF-Canada

So I have a very personal interest in the health of the entire BC coast. But I also know that there are broader issues and strategic resources at stake. Here are just a few.

As a Canadian I have a stake in the careful stewardship of the extraordinary ecological values of BC’s north coast – the Great Bear Sea. You are hearing evidence from scientific experts about how rich and rare and important this region is: for example, as a stronghold for wild Pacific salmon and other seafood species, or as crucial habitat for whales and dolphins. In a world facing increasing demands on diminishing resources (including such basic resources as food and water), the vast living wealth of BC’s north coast is a strategic Canadian resource. It is in our national interest to secure, cultivate and invest in this natural capital.

As a Canadian I have a stake in the world-leading models of sustainability that have emerged on BC’s coast in recent years. This region, including the Great Bear, is home to some of the best examples the world has yet seen of how people can work together to honour Aboriginal rights and title; create long-term jobs; restore, enhance, and manage healthy ecosystems; and strengthen cultures and communities. You are hearing evidence from people who have been part of developing these plans. In a world that attaches ever-greater value to innovation, citizen engagement, multiple-use planning, and consensus-building, this experience is a strategic Canadian resource. It is in our national interest to secure, cultivate and invest in this intellectual capital.

As a Canadian I have a stake in rigorous analysis and assessments, in keeping with the enormous and irreplaceable social, economic, and environmental values at stake on the coast and in the Great Bear Sea. And I have an interest in a robust and transparent review process that earns the confidence of industry, community interests, and all Canadians. You are hearing evidence about information gaps, analytical failures, and misleading risk analyses by the proponent; and about a lack of procedural fairness, affronts to democracy, and the erosion of the environmental standards that should safeguard the health of nature and people. In a world where access to markets, to financing, and to business opportunities is increasingly tied to social licence, the trust of audiences both at home and abroad is a strategic resource (Notably, it is the only resource whose presence, abundance and quality are entirely within our control as a country). It is in our national interest to secure, cultivate and invest in this social capital.

Last fall, our children saw their first spirit bear and, for the first time, watched a humpback whale breach within 100 meters of our small boat. Their awe and elation in moments like this is just a small-scale version of the attachment that all coastal residents have to this remarkable place. At a national scale, the long-term interests of all Canadians are also attached to BC’s north coast and the Great Bear Sea.

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project represents an unacceptable and unmanageable risk to the environment, communities, and economies of the coast. This project also it threatens Canada’s long-term natural, intellectual, and social capital. For the sake of my family, my fellow coastal residents, and my fellow Canadians, I urge this panel to recommend against this proposal.

Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel listens to Darcy Dobell’s oral statement in Vancouver (c) Jo Anne Walton/WWF-Canada