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Canada Blasts ‘Radical’ Environmentalists Over Oil Sands Pipeline

Alberta oil sands – 2011

A controversial letter from the Canadian government lashed out at opponents of the Enbridge Pipeline, claiming campaigners have colluded with foreign environmental “radicals” and hijacked the debate. The open letter was authored by Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, and caused an uproar in Canada upon its release.

The Enbridge Pipeline has been the source of increasing controversy in Canada as a result of its environmental consequences and impacts on First Nations communities. If the $5.5 billion project goes ahead, it will bring 525,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat, British Columbia. The purpose of the new project is to open up Alberta’s oil exports to markets in the Pacific Rim.

If the Enbridge pipeline proceeds as planned, it would require overturning a moratorium on tanker traffic off the coast of British Columbia.

Environmentalists claim that Alberta oil is particularly dirty while aboriginal communities fear an oil spill in culturally and environmental sensitive areas.

Clearly Canada’s Conservative government is growing increasingly frustrated at international attempts to thwart its pipeline developments. Already Obama delayed his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which sparked protests outside of the White House back in 2011. And in response, the Canadian government claims that environmentalists are harming the country’s interests and costing Canadians jobs and economic development.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May fired back with an open letter of her own, claiming that Joe Oliver’s statement was riddled with political spin and a shocking disregard for the facts.

She argued that opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline had more complex reasons than mere “environmental extremism.” She highlighted how the pipeline would be funnelling oil through 1,200 kilometres of sensitive wilderness, thus impacting First Nations communities in the area. Furthermore, she revealed how the pipeline was in fact opposed by local labour unions for outsourcing oil refinement outside of the country.

But in the end, the underlying question over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline is a question of values. The Conservative government seems to suggest that economic development has a higher value than environmental or cultural concerns. Their argument implicitly suggests that opposing the pipeline is akin to opposing Canada’s ‘best interests’.

But how do we define Canada’s best interests?

According to First Nations, it is in Canada’s best interest to protect culturally and environmentally sensitive land.

According to labour unions, protecting Canada’s best interest means keeping jobs in the country.

And according to environmentalists, it is in Canada’s best interest to protect sensitive ecosystems, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

By suggesting that all opponents of the pipeline are “anti-development”, Joe Oliver is grossly oversimplifying the debate and avoiding a proper dialogue over pipeline development.

What are your thoughts on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline? Do you think international environmentalists have a place in Canada’s domestic policies?

Image courtesy of the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center: Alberta oil sands, 2011

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