Support sought for Northern Gateway citizen vote
Canvassers with a provincial environmental group are knocking on local doors in an attempt to gauge support for a provincial-wide citizen’s initiative on the Enbridge Northern Gateway heavy oil pipeline.
Dogwood Initiative, a Victoria-based non-profit, is asking residents to sign a petition pledging they would be in support of a citizen’s initiative should the group deem one is necessary in order to hold the provincial government to account on its position on the controversial pipeline. The pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from Alberta west to Kitimat for export by tanker overseas.
The citizen’s initiative legislation – which was used successfully by the anti-HST campaign and unsuccessfully by those wishing to reform marijuana laws – is unique to B.C. Under Elections BC’s Recall and Initiative Act, petitioners need to collect signatures from 10 per cent of the registered voters in every provincial district over a three month period saying they support the petitioners’ draft bill.
If that threshold is met, the draft bill could be introduced into the legislature for debate, or a provincial-wide vote could be held asking voters to consider the act.
In this case, the draft bill could use language making it impossible for the provincial government to approve the permits necessary for a pipeline to be built, essentially giving those against the pipeline an “insurance policy”, explained Will Horter, executive director of Dogwood Initiative.
“This is the insurance policy when everything else has failed,” he said. “When permits are being put forward and there’s the threat of shovels in the ground. This isn’t something we’re going to do tomorrow, we’re going to let the political process play out.”
The people voting to repeal the HST weren’t necessarily voting because they didn’t like the tax, he explained, they were voting because they were mad at the government for misleading them – and he is counting that the same would happen if the provincial government came out in support of the pipeline.
But he says the difference between the two campaigns is that Dogwood’s is in two parts. Right now, during the preparation phase, volunteers are knocking on doors to build up a database of supporters and organizers ready to mobilize if the decision is made to launch an initiative.
“If it looks like Christy Clark is going to break her election promise and not stand up and protect British Columbians’ interests and go back and do a flip flop on the submissions the government made to the Joint Review Panel where they said this project shouldn’t be approved as currently proposed and trust us, it’s not good enough, that’s when we would launch,” he said.
A provincial-wide vote on the pipeline is one possible outcome should a citizen’s initiative go through, and Dogwood’s slogan for this particular campaign is “Let B.C. Vote”.
Not everyone is convinced a province-wide vote is necessary.
Speaking after the federal government’s conditional approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline last month, both SkeenaWild director Greg Knox and Skeena MLA Robin Austin expressed hesitation at the idea of referendum.
“There’s overwhelming evidence showing that British Columbians don’t support the project so I don’t see the need,” said Knox.
“People have spoken loud and clear for the last two to three years on this, so I don’t think there’s any need,” added Austin, noting that the Joint Review Panel hearings and the Kitimat plebiscite vote are proof enough people are against the pipeline.
“Obviously if [a referendum] is organized people would have to respect the outcome of that, but frankly I think people have already spoken on this issue. Both during the last election and prior,” he said.
Dogwood Initiative’s Horter said it’s important to remember that a provincial-wide vote is only one possible outcome, and that it’s more about the political process and legally holding the government to account.
“It actually has some teeth to that which requires the provincial government to respond to that, whereas the initiative in Kitimat ... the council could have ignored that if they wanted to. There are binding aspects to a citizen’s initiative that would force the legislature and/or the province to [act],” he said.
And Enbridge Northern Gateway has indicated that it wouldn’t fight a referendum on its project.
“We do respect the rights of Canadians and obviously those of British Columbians and if there is a decision by British Columbians to have a referendum then we would follow that process as a participant in a way that we are allowed to follow it,” said Enbridge senior official Janet Holder, speaking June 17.