Protesters gathered at the Northwest Regional Airport today

Protesters gathered at the Northwest Regional Airport today

Northwest leaders react to federal approval of Northern Gateway pipeline

Pipeline likely headed for lengthy court battle, says Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin

Northwest reaction to the federal government’s conditional approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is beginning to flow in, with northwest leaders and environmentalists saying that this is just the beginning of a long process which will likely end up in the country’s highest court.

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“I don’t think this is any further ahead today than it was yesterday, I think the opposition will continue and it will end up in the courts,” said Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin of today’s announcement, which approved the proposed 1,177-kilometre twin heavy oil pipeline, subject to the 209 conditions imposed by last year’s federal review decision. He said the NDP will now focus on holding Premier Christy Clark to her word around the province’s five conditions.

“My job is to represent the people up here who are a huge majority opposed to this and to hold the BC Liberals to account,” he said. “Prior to the election, Christy Clark made it clear that she had five conditions, those five conditions are nowhere close to being met.”

The province has said the project doesn’t yet meet Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for new heavy oil pipelines, which include world leading marine and land spill protections, resolution of aboriginal concerns and a fair share of benefits for B.C. And Environment Minister Mary Polak has indicated the province could refuse permits for the project’s construction in B.C.

Saying the decision is “no great surprise”, Austin said he believes this is “the beginning of the next chapter of the fight on this.”

He anticipates a long court battle between First Nations along the pipeline’s route and the federal government.

“I suspect it’s going to be in court for a long time,” he said, adding he sees the fight heading to the Supreme Court of Canada. “I’m no constitutional lawyer, but if you look at the judicial rulings over the last five to 10 years in regards to First Nations’ rights and title, I suspect the First Nations lawyers will have a field day with this one. And we’ll fight it all the way.”

Area environmental group SkeenaWild director Greg Knox said his group stands with First Nations.

“Everybody’s saying the same thing, that they will support First Nations in legal action [and] that they’re willing to stand on the line,” he said. “I think this is going to be a very long, drawn out process starting in the courts and I don’t think it will ever be built.”

Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen echoed that sentiment in a conference call this afternoon.

“I truly believe this pipeline will never be built. I think the resolve and the passion of the people of the northwest will overcome it … governments can grant permits, but only people can give permission,” he said.

The NDP would put aside the decision if they form government following the 2015 election, he said.

“The shovels won’t be in the ground by then because the next step is court challenges,” he said. “This is likely going to the Supreme Court against First Nations who know their way around the Supreme Court,” he said. “I think it will go to the Supreme Court and will likely be shot down there.”

Northern Gateway project leader Janet Holder said she will continue to work to build on the 26 equity agreements the company has reached with aboriginal communities along the proposed pipeline route.

She said the project team will review the government’s decision and continue to work toward meeting the 209 conditions set out by the Joint Review Panel.

“Our team and I will continue traveling throughout British Columbia and continue speaking with people in their communities because today is just one step in a long process towards building a safer, better pipeline,” she said.

With files from Shaun Thomas, Tom Fletcher, Black Press