More than 300 people turned out Thursday evening for a forum at the University of Winnipeg on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. The audience heard impassioned presentations that explained the threats posed by the pipeline to local communities, to the Canadian economy and how the project endangers the awe-inspiring wilderness of British Columbia’s northern coast.

The evening opened with a welcome from Bloodvein First Nations elder Louis Young, followed by a screening of the short film, Oil in Eden. This film sets out the arguments against the pipeline and explains the risks for people who have not been following the issue.

Gerald Amos, a First Nations activist and a leading voice for conservation over the past 30 years, spoke first. He is a former elected Chief Councillor for the Haisla First Nation for 12 years. His community stands to be most affected by Northern Gateway, since it is at the proposed terminus of the pipeline. He provided a perspective on how his people are connected to the land, and how the Enbridge pipeline would put his whole culture at risk. A theme that emerged several times during the night is that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project is just one piece of a pattern of industrial development that is transforming the region.

Lynne Fernandez, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, provided an economic analysis of the pipeline project. Depending on what happens with oil prices, exchange rates and other economic variables over the next twenty years, the pipeline may have some positive or some negative economic effects across the whole country. In any case, subsidies to tar sands expansion and exports are making our economy less diverse, more dependent on resources and exaggerating the political influence of Alberta and the oil sector on the federal level.

Anne Lindsey, former executive director with the Manitoba Eco-Network explained the importance of environmental assessments. The current federal government is working to undermine the independence of Environmental Assessment process through a number of recent changes. In the case of the Northern Gateway hearings, it appears that the federal government is interfering in the work of the National Energy Board and applying pressure to ensure that it gets a positive result for the project. One of the petitions being distributed at the event called on the government to stop interfering in the hearings. Anne also encouraged people to get involved in local environmental organizations. She expressed her hope that ples

The final speaker was Dr. Wade Davis, explorer in residence with the National Geographic Society, visiting professor and senior fellow of the Masters in Development Practice (MDP) Indigenous Development program, University of Winnipeg and author of The Sacred Headwaters: the fight to save the Stikine, Skeena and Nass. Wade delivered a wide ranging address about climate change, the value of maintaining wilderness in northwestern BC’s headwaters region and connectivity to the land.

Richard Cloutier from CJOB 68 did an excellent job moderating the discussion and keeping the conversation flowing.

The event was sponsored by several local organizations including Green Action Centre, Manitoba Eco-Network, the Council of Canadians, the Green Action Committee of the First Unitarian Church, Climate Change Connection and the Sustainability Office of the University of Winnipeg. Funding for the event was provided by the Global Political Economy program and the Native Studies program at the University of Manitoba and by the Masters in Development Practice and Indigenous Development program at the University of Winnipeg.

The forum marked a turning point in the solidarity campaign for the stopping the Enbridge Pipeline. By the end of the evening, it was clear that this is not just another environmental issue affecting people in another place. Dozens of people signed petitions or sign up to stay involved in the issue. We expect this will be one of of many activities on organizing around the pipeline in Manitoba.

To participate, and have your voice heard in the Joint Panel Review hearings on the Enbridge Pipeline, you have until March 13 to get your written submission in.

Information about how to participate is on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel website.

The Vancouver Observer provides an excellent description of who the Joint Review Panel is, and how it functions.

See our climate change page for more information on this and other energy related topics.