Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Hiding in plain sight


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I'm no fair-weather hockey fan. I'll watch a good tilt no matter who is playing. That's why each spring, I greedily look forward to an almost nightly consumption of Stanley Cup Playoff games. This year, however, I find my viewing spoiled by a vomit-inducing dose of ads for the Northern Gateway pipeline. I'm sure I'm not alone.

After losing a non-binding plebiscite in Kitimat over its proposed pet project, disgraced oil company Enbridge — aided by the Harper government and your taxes — has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make the unpalatable appear palatable, in part by divorcing their tarnished name from the project. Yes, Northern Gateway ads are everywhere in B.C., but the company that spawned them has gone into hiding.

Earlier ads promulgating Canadians' apparent need for Northern Gateway and tarsands oil ("It's more than a pipeline, it's a path to our future") understandably rang hollow in the face of climate change and an absurdity that could be grasped by anyone with three neurons to rub together (which, of course, exempted conservatives). The latest round eschews any opening for critical analysis by aiming straight for the unthinking heart with warm, image-makeover pastels: green and blue to the horizons; children playing in mossy forest; guarantees that the pipeline will use previously disrupted land along 70 per cent of its route (without mentioning some of this has already reverted to its natural state of forest); earnest assurances that project peeps (suddenly all environmentalists, don't cha know) are working hard to meet the 209 conditions set out by the National Energy Board's lap-dog Joint Review Panel in their questionable recommendation to approve the pipeline (recall that of 1,200 or so folks who spoke at the JRP hearings, only two were in favour).

Naturally, the ads make no mention of disruption to migration and mating and foraging in wildlife ranging from caribou to humpback whales; no mention of the effects on recreational tourism; no mention of the inevitable spills; no nod to the concerns of First Nations over potential impacts to their sustainable food harvests in rivers, lakes and ocean; no talk of the ecological disruptions of tanker traffic or a potential spill on the coast. And finally — I would say criminally given that it is the primary global ecological issue of our times and the concern in the Keystone XL debate — zero mention of climate change. Unsurprisingly, the entire campaign is designed to deceive, to make you think, "Hey, these guys sound pretty responsible, and a pipeline doesn't sound so bad — especially if a few jobs come with it and we can sell some oil to China."

Spoiler alert/reality check: Enbridge doesn't give a rat's ass about you or Canada or native rights or salmon or anything else — it's a self-serving societal lamprey responsible only to its own bottom-line and shareholder concerns. Reality is that every aspect of running a tarsands pipeline filled with bitumen and toxic condensate through unstable mountains and over 700 watercourses including B.C.'s major salmon watersheds is fraught with danger and bad for everything — most especially the future. Reality is that there won't be enough permanent jobs to run a carwash. In other words, as critics rightly claim, no amount of risk justifies this project. The real crime, however, is that nowhere in these ads does the name "Enbridge" — a Corporate Hall of Shame oil company that has been happily breaking NEB rules for 25 years and soaking up the fines while leaving devastating oil spills in communities around North America to attest to it — even appear. Nor does it appear in the titling or links on gatewayfacts.ca — a sham of a site filled with softball questions likely posed and answered by OilCon trolls that conveniently overlooks any real facts. Stealthily, gently, Northern Gateway — with its willowy leaf logo and newfound disconnection from one of the most demonstrably malfeasant oil companies of all time — is being greenwashed by the equally conscienceless PR firm Hill + Knowlton, a pernicious influence-peddler grown corpulent by mopping up messy public opinion for Exxon Valdez, tobacco companies, various political despots, and any bad actor with enough money (it notoriously sold the Iraq war to Americans with its "dead babies in incubators" gambit).

With a much-documented majority of B.C.'s population opposing the pipeline and no change in sight, one can rightly ask what's the point? Clearly the company is trying to turn down the gas (ha ha) for Harper's inevitable approval of Northern Gateway in a few weeks time, hoping the inevitable civil disobedience and war on the ground doesn't further damage their already perfidious reputation. But you can't buy social license. When a company or government (or both) spends the equivalent of a small country's GDP to convince people to accept the clearly indefensible, there's truly something amiss and the people should reject it categorically and more fiercely than before.