Opinion: For Enbridge opposition it’s time to go political or go home

Opponents received a rude awakening to the fact that the hearings are only one battle in a war they haven't truly been fighting.

When Lax Kw’alaams Chief, Gary Reece, called a press conference last Thurday to announce that his people would not be taking part in the Joint Review Panel starting the the next day, I thought it was a mistake.

Reece said that the whole process was “a sham” to begin with and there was no point in bothering to take part. I thought that he was opening up themselves and other First Nations pipeline opponents to accusations of being obstructionist.

But after watching the entirety of the hearings in Prince Rupert, seeing one speaker after another having their testimony hamstrung by procedural rules that prevented direct criticism of the project or the company, and the fact that the company tried to limit the time allowed for presentations to 10 minutes, any accusation from pipeline supporters that it was opponents being obstructionist would be laughable.

That said, I do not agree with the popular sentiment that the hearings were a  complete sham – a sham suggests some kind of deception.

They were what they were: regulatory hearings, and not a silver bullet for opponents to fire into the heart of the pipeline. Only now that it has been made painfully obvious are people ready to accept that fact.

This was not a public inquiry where everyone’s opinion counts. These hearings are not the proper platform for arguing about cultural destruction, or questioning the ethics of the company or crying about the potential loss of a way of life. The National Energy Board is being forced from being a regulatory body to being the arbiter of the pipeline’s moral-acceptability, which is not its role.

Even if the three panelists side with opponents, the Federal cabinet will almost certainly ignore their recommendation and proceed anyway. Having the energy panel say the pipeline should not go ahead would be a propaganda victory for opponents that would make Tory spindoctors work harder for a week or two, and little else.

The fiasco at the Prince Rupert hearings has made opponents realize that the hearings are only one battle in a larger war, that so far, they are not even fighting.

When city councilor Joy Thorkelson said that this is a political problem with a political solution, she hit the nail on the head.

It’s time for opponents to start fighting the company and the federal government in the only place that they can be beaten: in the court of public opinion. And the only way to do that is through getting a convincing, unified, easily-understood and well-stated message out in the media and online.

In short, opponents need their own version of Ethical Oil.

The hearings’ one positive outcome is that Prince Rupert could be the birthplace of such a group if opponents feel strongly enough to attend the planning meeting at Fisherman’s Hall next Tuesday at 7:00 pm.

A colleague of mine reminded me that in a editorial I wrote over a year ago where I said that it was futile to try to fight the pipeline. But a few things have happened since now and then that have made me think otherwise.

The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the SOPA blackout and even last week’s Twitter backlash against the Vic Toews and the e-snooping bill shows that dissent when coupled with Internet has the ability to make politicians run for cover and abandon terrible policies that only a day before they supported.

Majority government or not, if a media-war causes Canadians to turn on the project, Stephen Harper will have to listen.