The Prince Rupert City Council voted unanimously on Monday night to formally oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, making it the third northern BC local government to do so over the past few weeks.
The council has adopted the same resolution that the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District (SQCRD) did over a week ago:
“Therefore, be it resolved that the City of Prince Rupert be opposed to any expansion of bulk crude oil tanker traffic as well as bitumen export in Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound in British Columbia.
“And be it further resolved that the City of Prince Rupert petition the federal government to establish a legislated ban on bulk crude oil tanker traffic and bitumen export through the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound in British Columbia.”
At the beginning of the council meeting the public gallery was packed with people who had come out to support anti-pipeline presenters for the council’s Committee of the Whole – a special meeting in which people are allowed to raise issues with or asks questions directly to council.
It was the the Prince Rupert Environmental Society that asked the city council to adopt the resolution.
“The reason we’re here is to ask our council to pass a resolution opposing Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline,” said Ian Dobson, from the environmental society.
Up until now, Prince Rupert has remained carefully neutral on the subject of the pipeline. In a written submission to the Joint Review Panel which examining the controversial project, the city steered well clear of opposing the project directly, but rather focused on the importance of a clean environment to Prince Rupert’s economy and people.
That neutrality came to an end last night when, at the end of their meeting, after all but a handful of the people who had packed the gallery had left, councillor Jennifer Rice said it was time for the city to take a clear position. The Enbridge Joint Review Panel, she argued, has already been asking the city for their opinion on the pipeline anyway.
“A lot of other municipalities have been weighing the pros and cons of taking a neutral stance versus actually taking a position. I think since they are soliciting for our input, we should take a formal position and we should adopt the resolution that was passed by our neighbours at the SQCRD,” Councilor Rice said to her fellow council members.
She found very little disagreement from her colleagues.
“Right now, when I look at that particular project, I really believe that the City of Prince Rupert is not really getting anything out of it, and I think the risks very much outweigh the benefits that are coming forward,” said Councillor Anna Ashley after declaring that she would be voting in favour of Rice’s motion.
Ashley also said she was philosophically opposed to the idea of exporting unprocessed bitumen to Asia along with all the jobs that could have been in Canada refining it, and that the provincial and federal governments would be the gatekeepers of any other economic benefits the project might produce.
“They decide how that money is being spent while we get nothing, yet we take all the risks,” says Ashley.
The other councillors agreed.
“I’ll be voting for this as well be cause common sense tells me that trying to navigate these waters with a Very Large Crude Carrier doesn’t make sense to me [sic],” said Garon.
The only person who did not agree that adopting the resolution was a good idea was the Mayor, Jack Mussallem.
The mayor argued that as a level of government, it would be better to wait to make a decision until after the Joint Review Panel hearings have finished in 2013, when all the information for them to consider would be collected.
“Taking into consideration that this council is a governing body, whether you’re for something or against it, you’re better off to wait until the whole review process is done. . . Once you have all the appropriate information, that is the appropriate time to then decide. There’s no reason to rush in this process,” argued Mayor Mussallem.
But the mayor doesn’t get to vote unless there’s a tie, and it was clear that a consensus had already formed among the city councillors.
Councillor Judy Carlick-Pearson said that even with more information and time she doesn’t think her opinion of the pipeline is likely to change. Councillor Rice reminded that the Joint Review Panel had asked for their opinion, so waiting didn’t make sense. Councillor Joy Thorkelson said she might have agreed with Mussallem before, but says political interference from the Harper Government and others has made whatever the panel decides of no consequence.
“I may have agreed with you, had the provincial and federal governments kept their hands out of the process. But once somebody announces that it doesn’t really matter, it’s going ahead, it’s a no-brainer, then to me it’s a no-brainer that we have to step out of the process, roll our sleeves up and come out fighting as a political entity,” says Thorkelson.
The only councillor to try to ease the mayor’s concerns was Anna Ashley who argued that the even if the city takes a position now, it doesn’t mean they can’t reconsider it in the future if new information coming out of the hearing process gives them reason to do so.
“I think we need to take a position to protect our communities, to ensure that all of our concerns that have been said are known. And if somewhere down the line a scientist comes up with a way to ensure that 99 per cent of an oil spill can cleaned-up, then I might change my mind. But at this point with everything out there I can’t see myself doing that,” says Ashley.
So it came to a vote and all six council members voted in favour, and the council’s resolution will be submitted to the Joint Review Panel as written evidence.
The only other local governments to formally oppose the pipeline to date are Prince Rupert, Terrace, the SQCRD. The villages of Masset, Queen Charlotte, and Port Clements on the Haida Gwaii passed resolutions opposing tankers in 2010 and the Union of BC Municipalities passed similar resolutions during their 2010 convention.