British Columbia

Residents of B.C.'s North Coast react to the 'death' of Northern Gateway

After the federal cabinet delivered its decision to reject the Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway pipelineTuesday, residents in B.C.'s north reflect on the aftermath.

'I think most people had the feeling it would never happen'

The Enbridge-backed 1,177-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline would have run from a terminal in Bruderheim, north of Edmonton, Alta. to Kitimat, B.C. (CBC)

For many in B.C.'s north, yesterday's announcement by the federal government rejecting the Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway pipeline was anti-climactic.

"There was so much opposition with First Nations and even non-First Nations ... Even though the federal government could still push it through, I think most people had that feel that it would never happen," said Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth.

The pipeline, which would have sent bitumen from Bruderheim, north of Edmonton, Alta., to Kitimat on B.C.'s North Coast, has been delayed for years by protests and court challenges.

Even though the Harper government approved the project in 2014 with 209 conditions, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the decision in June of this year.

It said the federal government had failed to meet its constitutional duty to consult with First Nations groups. A quarter of the pipeline would have traversed First Nations territory.

A win for some First Nations

Clifford White, chief councillor for the Gitxaala first nation, was part of the legal battle.

He was happy with the federal government's decision on Northern Gateway but pointed out the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline would negatively affect First Nations elsewhere in the province.

"The bad news is Kinder Morgan for the South Coast," he said. "The First Nations out there will be affected no differently than we would be up here in the north, where the oceans are part of our livelihood."

Demonstrators protest on the streets following the federal government's iniital approval in June 2014 of the Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Reuters)

First Nations weren't unanimously opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Roy Jones Jr. is a Haida community consultant for Enbridge. His support for the pipeline led to the community stripping him of his title as hereditary chief.

Roy Jones Jr. served as a Haida consultant for Enbridge. His support of the Northern Gateway pipeline led to the community stripping him of his hereditary title. (Supplied)

"Trudeau basically said it was dead on Tuesday. [The decision] wasn't a surprise," he admitted.

But his stance on the pipeline has come at a tremendous personal cost for himself and his family, he said.

"I'll be hereditary chief till I die. You don't call a bunch of people together and cast a bunch of ballots. I've had many of our clan members in the wake of that escapade come and say to me 'you're still our chief.'"

Jones Jr. said the experience had a silver lining: "it gave me an absolutely incredible opportunity to research shipping on the coast."

He's now put his focus on marine safety on B.C.'s North Coast.

North Coast oil tanker ban

It is that fragile coastal environment that formed the premise of the federal government's rejection of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Prime Minister Trudeau said he was committed to protecting the North Coast's Great Bear Rainforest, which he referred to as the jewel of B.C.

He reiterated his promise of a crude oil tanker ban on B.C.'s North Coast, and the government announced it will introduce legislation by spring 2017 to formalize the moratorium.

A fisherman paddles the waters of the Kitimat Arm of the Douglas Channel in northern B.C. The Trudeau government has pledged to formalize its commitment to an oil tanker ban on B.C.'s North Coast. (Julie Gordon/Reuters)

Kitimat pipefitter Peter King — who supported the Northern Gateway pipeline — was disappointed by the decision.

He said he was confused by the logic of only banning tankers on the North Coast.

"Why don't we ban the tankers on the East Coast? We have no problem with tankers on the East Coast bringing in Saudi Arabian oil ... We say that's fine and put it in pipelines there, but we have a problem with pipelines and tankers on the West Coast. I don't understand why."

Federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said other coasts would be protected by the federal government's new $1.5B oceans protection plan — which he said had "very robust measures when it comes to marine safety".

"We are a trading nation. We have commerce. We need to continue that commerce because it is important for our country."

And Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth — referencing LNG and potential refineries — said B.C.'s North Coast residents will still find a way to be part of that.

"[We're] focused on other opportunities."

With files from Daybreak North and The Early Edition