Nobel Prize winner arrives in Fort McMurray before touring pipeline route

Jody Williams is leading a delegation of women on a trip from the oilsands in northern Alberta to the coast of B.C. to get a female perspective on energy and pipeline development.

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – A woman who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban landmines is leading a delegation of women on a trip from the oilsands in northern Alberta to the coast of B.C. to get a female perspective on energy and pipeline development.

Jody Williams, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, will begin a week-long series of meetings along the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline route on Tuesday in Fort McMurray.

The trip is being organized by the group, Nobel Women’s Initiative, an Ottawa-based organization of women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize and advocate women’s rights.

Williams could be stepping into a metaphorical minefield on her first day. Tuesday’s itinerary includes a tour of Suncor’s oilsands operations near Fort McMurray, and one of the group’s early meetings is with Melissa Blake, who’s the mayor of the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which encompasses the booming oilsands city.

Liz Bernstein, the executive director of Nobel Women’s Initiative, says the group fully expects to hear views in support of development, as well as those that oppose it.

“It’s an important source of livelihood for a lot of people here. And I’m sure we’ll hear all kinds of perspectives. And so we’ll be listening to all of them before forming any of our recommendation at the end of our visit,” said Bernstein, who arrived in Fort McMurray on Sunday.

The delegation also includes Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer, Kenyan environmentalist Ikal Angelei, corporate executive Chris Page and climate scientist Marianne Douglas from the University of Alberta.

Enbridge Inc.’s proposed pipeline would ship bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands across B.C. to tankers heading to Asian markets.

Williams, who was scheduled to arrive in Fort McMurray late Monday and was unavailable to comment, said in a video on the Nobel Women’s Initiative website that she hoped that the construction of the pipeline isn’t a certainty.

“Unfortunately, like in too many situations of crisis around the world, the women and their children are the ones who suffer the most when their environment is destroyed. So our delegation is going to go and look at what is happening in the possible expansion of the tarsands to their communities and the women’s perspective on why they don’t want to see that happen,” Williams says in the video.

“That’s our contribution that’s a little bit different than from other people who are working together to stop the tarsands and to stop the destruction of our planet.”

Bernstein says that her group was invited by a number of community organizations along the route who she says felt the concerns of women weren’t being discussed during the debate on whether or not to approve the pipeline.

She says she’s not sure, yet, what the specific concerns of women will be. But she says her group has found from it’s experiences in other countries that women are often affected differently than men by issues such as climate change.

“Women are the majority of the world’s small-scale farmers who do produce most of the world’s food. So for example, crop failures mean harder work for them and their families may have less to eat,” Bernstein explains.

She also says women tend to die in higher numbers than men in natural disasters, which she says are on the rise. And in conflicts, which often arise when water becomes scarce, she says women are frequently the victims of violence.

The next stage of hearings on the pipeline plan also begin Tuesday in Prince George, B.C. Those hearings, and others set for Prince Rupert, B.C. will focus on environmental protection and emergency preparedness.

Enbridge vice-president Janet Holder said last week the company is poised to show British Columbians the Northern Gateway pipeline can bring prosperity to the province while still protecting the environment.

Holder said protecting people and the environment is the company’s top priority, which is why it’s brought in improvements to make what she calls an already safe project even safer.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative says it will present recommendations from its trip at a news conference in Vancouver on Oct. 16.