Council Categorically Rejects Northern Gateway Pipeline
The 41st General Council has instructed Nora Sanders, the United Church's General Secretary, to make a public statement “categorically” rejecting construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which has a proposed route stretching from northern Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia.
Due to the timely nature of the pipeline review hearings, commissioners asked that this be accomplished soon. In addition, Sanders has been asked to communicate this decision to all courts of the church, the governments of Canada, Alberta, and British Columbia, Enbridge, and all Canadians through media outlets.
Initiated by the Native Ministries Council of British Columbia Conference, the proposal was brought forward to this Council meeting by the All Native Circle Conference. The decision was made by Council delegates meeting in one of three decision-making bodies called commissions on August 14.
According to Jim White of British Columbia Conference, one of the biggest environmental concerns is the size of the ships required to transport the crude oil to China. He said super oil tankers are expected to be much larger than the Exxon Valdez, a ship that ran aground and spilled oil in the waters near Alaska in 1989. He said his community is fearful about another possible spill and the environmental damage that would result.
Joan Smith of Manitou Conference asked the commissioners about their financial connection to Enbridge. “Have you checked your mutual funds?” she asked. “Are they invested in Enbridge? And if they are, are you prepared to let them go?” Another commissioner wondered if the United Church would be asking the members of their congregations to sell their shares in Enbridge.
Ray Jones, Chair of the British Columbia Native Ministries Council, said the current federal government is doing everything it can to make sure this pipeline goes through. The oil and natural resources will not benefit Aboriginal people, he said, because the oil is being moved offshore to be refined. In terms of environmental issues, he explained that the waters around Kitimat are very treacherous in terms of weather and geography.
Bill Calder of Alberta and Northwest Conference said he understood the fragile ecology in the area, but also sees the value of getting oil to Asia. He said he is concerned about the word “categorical” since there are always risks and benefits to any proposal. He asked to make an amendment to the motion removing the word “categorically” and asking for a “rejection as currently proposed.” This was ruled out of order because it would change the substance of the motion.
Some discussion centred on the issue of our dependence on oil. On one side, commissioners said it was unrealistic for us to reject this project outright because we all depend on oil. For Joan MacLeod of Maritime Conference the argument had another side. “We're not against oil per se but the shipping of raw bitumen through pristine Native land to the West Coast so it can be processed in China. I think that's a very important distinction.” She said that as recently as 2008 the Conservative government supported processing oil in Canada rather than shipping it to Asia.
In the background material to the proposal, commissioners were told that the British Columbia Native Ministries Council spent considerable time visiting and speaking with church leaders, Aboriginal Elders, and congregation members on the specific issue of the pipeline and its current review by a Joint Review Panel mandated by the federal Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board of Canada.