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Pipelines and Closed Doors

Energy East Public Forum draws crowd, Conservative activist in disguise

by Miles Howe

The National Energy Board is "considering" whether to include climate change as a variable when evaluating projects. Awesome. Welcome to the twenty first century. [Photo: Miles Howe]
The National Energy Board is "considering" whether to include climate change as a variable when evaluating projects. Awesome. Welcome to the twenty first century. [Photo: Miles Howe]

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - With Hurtin' Albertan Peter Watson, chair of the 'arm's length' (guffaw) National Energy Board in Halifax to promote the Energy East pipeline, activists today hosted their own public forum outside of the Central public library. Incensed that Watson – he of the $300,000 club in free-spending former premier Alison Redford's cabinet – was not holding any public consultations in Halifax whilst on his whistle stop promo tour, the group braved the frigid, pre-blizzard to end all blizzard temperatures, dropped some banners, and held court with the cream of Halifax's media world.

“Energy East [as it pertains to climate change] affects everyone, so we don't think it's unreasonable to have Nova Scotians contribute to a National Energy Review of this pipeline,” says Alex Guest, from Stop the Energy East Pipeline Halifax. “But today we're specifically calling out the National Energy Board for not holding open consultations on their review process. Right now they're doing a closed-door tour of Canada to try and get input on their review process. They're not opening that up to the public at all.”

The only avenue that appears open to us pleebs (aside from standing in the cold) is a discussion board (!) on which we can join exciting forums. There, one can learn that the National Energy Board, reacting with the speed of a three-toed sloth, is “taking into consideration” gauging climate change as a factor when considering a project's potential merits. Oh good.

Of course, hitching our entire economy to resource extraction, without having a national energy strategy in place (Norway, can we talk after?) is not a laughing matter at all. In Cape Breton, where a large percentage of the island's economy is based on remittance payments from 'away' workers, food bank use in Sydney has jumped 10 percent in a year, with Loaves and Fishes managers saying that out-of-work tar sanders, coming home hungry, has bumped demand.

“I know that a lot of people have come back out east from Alberta since oil prices dropped. I know that that's going to have an effect on how people see this pipeline – both ways,” says Guest. “Some people are going to say we need this pipeline. Some people are going to see that locking us into more dependency on the fossil fuel industry in Canada is not what's going to help provinces out east long-term.”

Economic diversification (yes, the D word) is also an often-muzzled concept, when one resides in the petrol-state. Silently though, while mostly grey-haired male pundits (hatched from pods?) pepper the public with call-in shows that sagely ponder whether one can have an environment or a job (whilst taking speaking engagements from big oil!), in 2014 'green jobs' outmatched tar sands workers.

“We're in this problem now where we're presented with a choice between a strong economy or a strong environment,” says Guest. “I think that's a false choice, but if people had made tough choices twenty, thirty, forty years ago, we wouldn't deal with this now. And we can't make this choice now if they lock us in, twenty, thirty, forty years down the road to the same, or worsening problem.”

Funnily enough, the Conservative Party of Canada would not let this 'public forum' outside of the Halifax Central library pass without some fraudulent infiltration of their own. Andrew Dawson, presenting himself as the Atlantic representative of 'Canada's Building Trades Unions' (CBTU), arrived on the scene for just about precisely the amount of time that Halifax's televised media was on hand.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with presenting varying opinions at a public forum – that's what public forums are for. But Dawson, a former staffer of New Brunswick Conservatives Bernard Lord, and a card carrying, self-proclaimed 'Conservative Activist', certainly did not present himself as such.

No, for Halifax television he was just a friend of the working man, with a down-home Maritime accent 'bye, here to represent the hard-working lads from the trades against the babblings of those kooky environmentalists. Local CBC anchor Paul Dithers, looking sweet in a toque, likely didn't pick up on it, even though I did try and tweet him, and even though Dawson looked like he was fresh from the salon, ready for a TV close-up.

Make no mistake, Dawson does in fact work for the CBTU. He's a lawyer. Personally, after listening to this speech he made to the far-right 'Manning Centre', if I were a unionist, I'd be disgusted. He derides postal workers (maternity leave, anyone?) and teachers (reading and writing, yeah?), and presents trade unionists as something far different, in that they just “want their gun” and want to do a “honest days work.”

If I were a unionist, I'd also be a bit worried. Dawson's whole speech to the Manning Centre is based upon the premise that the Conservative party should be looking to the 500,000 workers that the CBTU claims to represent as an untapped voting base. Hey, big labour? There's an election coming this year. Our economy's going to tank for a bit here. Quite sure you can get the worker vote out?

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