Pipeline opponents gather for a protest at the B.C. legislature

VICTORIA - Critics of the Northern Gateway project are hoping for a big turnout today at the B.C. legislature to protest the proposed pipeline.

VICTORIA – Critics of the Northern Gateway project are hoping for a big turnout today at the B.C. legislature to protest the proposed pipeline.

The sit-in was organized by a coalition of groups that want to send a clear message to the provincial and federal governments about the plan to pipe crude from the Alberta oil sands to a tanker port in Kitimat.

Organizers are hoping at least a thousand people will join the protest in a show of force against the project.

Peter McHugh, spokesman for the organizing group, Defend Our Coast, said some of the protesters are prepared to go to jail, and

McHugh added that protesters do not take lightly the prospect of civil disobedience, and they hope the protest is peaceful.

“We mean to deliver a message to Christy Clark and the federal government that British Columbians oppose these tar sands, tankers and pipelines,” McHugh said.

He hopes the protest shows that opponents of the project run the gamut from grandmothers to business owners.

The Northern Gateway issue is a tipping point for the public, said Nikki Skuce of ForestEthics.

“People have thought about the Enbridge and Kinder-Morgan pipelines as a real key issue, whether it’s to do with climate change, Harper bullying, cutting environmental legislation, First Nations rights and title, shipping raw resources and the jobs that go with it overseas,” Skuce said.

“This is the first, the culmination, of building on what people have said when they said they’ll do whatever it takes to try to stop these projects.”

Everyday people are mobilizing, she said.

The threat of protests and civil disobedience harkens back to the War in the Woods of B.C. in the 80s, when confrontations between environmentalists and forestry workers were commonplace as the two battled over the province’s old growth forests.

The protests have been endorsed by unions such as the CAW and the B.C. Teacher’s Federation, as well as celebrities including actor Ellen Page and singer Dan Mangan.

Enbridge (TSX:ENB) defends the $6-billion pipeline project saying it will generate $81 billion in revenues for federal and provincial governments over 30 years.

The provincial government is not in session, but protesters say it will get the message.

About 4,500 people have signed an online pledge on the group’s website promising support for the protest in Victoria and another provincewide protest planned for Wednesday at MLA offices in 55 communities.

For some, the Northern Gateway pipeline has become a lightning rod for discontent not only with the expansion of the Alberta oil sands, but with B.C.’s Liberal government and the federal Conservative government that has made sweeping changes to environmental laws.

The protests have garnered support from unions including the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, the Canadian Auto Workers, the B.C. Teacher’s Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union.

They have the backing of Greenpeace, ForestEthics, the Council of Canadians and several First Nations, and have been endorsed by high-profile activists such as David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis. Celebrity supporters include filmmaker Michael Moore, singers Sarah Harmer and Dan Mangan, and actors Ellen Page, Mark Ruffalo and Darryl Hannah.

The pipeline would carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands through northern B.C. to a tanker port in Kitimat in one pipe, and condensate from Kitimat east to Alberta in another.

Enbridge has estimated that opening up Asian markets to Canadian oil would boost Canada’s GDP by $270 billion over 30 years, and would generate $81 billion in direct and indirect revenues to the federal and provincial governments. Of that, B.C. would receive about $6 billion, while Ottawa would receive about $36 billion and Alberta $32 billion.

Environmental review hearings in Prince George, B.C., have been adjourned for one week, and will resume Oct. 29.

The three-member review panel has until the end of next year to complete its report.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he will be in Victoria on Monday.

“The Harper Government has clearly demonstrated that it is only their blatant sell-out to industry agenda that matters,” Phillip said in a statement.

He said environmental laws “are being systematically bulldozed aside in Parliament to the delight and benefit of tar sands development projects such as the Northern Gateway Enbridge project and the expansion of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline.”

Kinder Morgan has proposed its own $4.1-billion Trans Mountain project that would expand an existing pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver.

— By Dene Moore in Vancouver