In 2001, Stephen Harper was famously one of the signatories to an open letter encouraging then-Alberta Premier Ralph Klein “to build firewalls around Alberta.” The idea was that Alberta had to protect itself against the encroachments of the federal government.
This morning it is BC’s turn to defend itself against a predatory federal government — that of Stephen Harper.
With the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, BC will have to begin to build its own firewalls. The first will be political and spiritual — a vociferous refusal to accept the Harper government’s intrusion on the landscape and coastline of northern BC, as it goes about its business on behalf of Calgary’s oil patch. The second will be quite real, and will start on the BC border southwest of Grande Prairie and stretch all the way to the Douglas Channel, the body of water through which Enbridge proposes to run its massive tankers — a wall of civil disobedience, comprised of very real people, First Nations and non-native alike, who will see to it that the Northern Gateway Pipeline does not pass through.
It will be, if not a firewall, an impermeable opposition. This is the course the Harper government has chosen by approving the pipeline — years of social disruption, in a province that knows how to do that sort of thing very well. Or perhaps it will be a firewall — the image of villagers wielding torches and pitchforks as they defend themselves against Calgary and Ottawa’s Frankenstein seems altogether appropriate here, though this time the monster won’t be noble and misunderstood, and the villagers will be in the right.
For now, though, this is the ultimate triumph of the kid who started work in Imperial Oil’s Edmonton offices when he was 19, and who has been carrying boxes for it ever since. Like a lot of young men, Harper discovered fresh territory in the West, just waiting to be conquered. He did so rather handily in Alberta; is it any wonder he now turns his sights to BC?
Things won’t go as smoothly for him here, though. I have lived half my life in Alberta and half in BC, and what I have learned living in the latter, which I never would have suspected living in Alberta, is the depth of British Columbians’ attachment to their landscape. Which only stands to reason — this is among the most powerfully beautiful places on earth. The First Nations here understood their stewardship of it, and — though it took them awhile — the settlers who followed have learned well from them. There are not a lot of things the natives and non-natives of this province do well together, but caring for the land has become one of them.
So, bring it on, Steve. You won’t get far. BC is not Alberta. And the people of BC intend to keep it that way.
As a reminder of what happened last time this sort of thing went down, here’s Bob Bossin’s Sulphur Passage, sometimes known as ¡No pasarán! — “They Shall Not Pass.”