The Joint Review Panel hearings in Prince Rupert on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline are over, and many are feeling disillusioned with the process. Not even an hour had passed after it ended before a public meeting was organized for Februrary 28 to come up with a better way than regulatory hearings to oppose the pipeline.
The Joint Review Panel in Prince Rupert was the first opportunity for interveners to give oral evidence to the three person panel who will be making a recommendation to the federal cabinet on whether the pipeline should be allowed to go ahead. Many were saying that testimony had been “muzzled” as interveners were not allowed to explicitly argue against the project or present any technical information on the environment or anything else.
When the hearings concluded after a presentation by the Allied Fishermen and Workers Union, many people filed out and left but some stayed behind to talk about what they had just witnessed.
Angriest of all was Gerald Sewart of the Gitsis who walked into the middle of the room and said that opponents of the pipeline had gone along with the hearing process long enough, and now they need to unify and refine their message to fight pipeline proponents in the political and media realms. Otherwise, he said, the federal government will just go ahead with it no matter what is said at hearings.
“If it’s well orchestrated and we take all the best speakers we have and all the scientific data; we need to put together our own media package too. There’s a lot of knowledge here, there’s a lot of people who do Internet-ing. We skirted along it but no one was actually allowed to say [ arguments against the pipeline] , ‘oh, we don’t want to talk about that,’” Stewart told the room.
The reason why intervenors were not allowed to make arguments against the pipeline was because it didn’t count as oral evidence. According to the energy board’s rules, oral evidence can only be the speaker’s own experiences and opinions that illustrate how the pipeline could affect the region if it were to go ahead.
Speakers were not allowed to actually argue against the pipeline. If a speaker uttered the words “if there is a spill…” Enbridge’s lawyer would make an objection saying that it was argumentative. And the panel’s chairperson would remind the speaker save those thoughts for the closing arguments in April. The same went for any kind of technical or scientific data, political statements, or arguing against any specifics of the pipeline plan.
The rules made for some odd testimony as speakers were basically trying to layout reasons for why the pipeline should not go ahead without ever talking directly about the pipeline or the tankers.
Local MP, Nathan Cullen, was the first speaker of the hearings and the first one to come into conflict with the procedural rules about oral evidence. Almost immediately after the politician began, Enbridge’s lawyer objected to the political nature of his evidence, that he was arguing specifics of the pipeline and not sticking to his own personal experiences.
After an hour of arguing with the panel on what he could and could not say, the hearings took a five minute break. After it reconvened, Cullen told a couple anecdotes about him living in northern BC and his experiences traveling the region as an MP. It lasted about 10 minutes.
In the convention centre after the hearings, Gerald Stewart’s call for a more organized, more overtly political opposition to the pipeline went over well with the small group of people in the hearing room as more, and more people filtered back in from the lobby to listen.
“Well, my job is organizing,” announces fishermen’s union representative and city councillor, Joy Thorkelson,” so, we’re going to have a meeting at Fishermen’s Hall . . .we’ll do it on Tuesday the 28th at 7:00 and everyone is welcome.
Thorkelson agrees that it’s time to for the opposition to stop organizing independently and come up with a plan to fight the pipeline in the media and online. The meeting at the Fisherman’s Hall, she says, will be for getting people together and developing some kind of plan based on people’s strengths.
“We’ve been around this for a long time. We can win this thing. This will be won on politics. . . It’s not going to be won no matter how heartfelt and how many tears were shed up front there. That’s not what’s going to make a difference. The difference is political,” says Thorkelson.
The Prince Rupert Northern View tried to interview a representative from Enbridge to get their thoughts on what was said at the hearings, but company’s group left the hearing room and the building as soon as the hearings ended.