Skeena MP Nathan Cullen stopped in Burns Lake on July 29, 2013 as part of a low-key riding visit. Instead of formal, large gatherings Cullen set up meetings with small groups of concerned citizens to hear what matters to them without the intimidating trappings of a public, town-hall type forum.
One of his stops in Burns Lake was for a meeting with the Lakes District Clean Waters Society to discuss local concerns surrounding the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.
Later, he expanded on issues raised during the meeting.
Cullen’s position on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project is well known.
“The risks aren’t worth the benefits,” Cullen repeated.
But for Cullen the risks go beyond the obvious environmental risks. He wants to include the risk that the federal government and its regulatory processes could lose their legitimacy in the voter’s eye.
“Oil shouldn’t run a government,” he said. “Every other environmental or energy policy is eclipsed by the focus on getting oil to the coast.”
“The federal budget for alternative energy research is zero.”
Which, in Cullen’s view, is short-sighted.
“If what you depend on is running out, wouldn’t you invest in alternate strategies?”
Cullen has been dealing with Enbridge’s proposal since 2005 when the idea started to first gain traction. At the time he was open to discussions with Enbridge, to at least see what the company had in mind.
Since then, he’s lost faith in the company’s ability to find the social license it would need to proceed. And the divisiveness of the proposal has served to poison other conversations surrounding energy infrastructure in the Northwest. “Natural gas discussions have been hurt by the Enbridge process; people don’t trust the [regulatory] process anymore.”
The biggest part of the process has been the recently concluded federal Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel (JRP), but Cullen has lost any confidence he might have initially had in the ability of the JRP to decide against the pipeline, if that’s what the evidence demands.
“[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper has made the JRP into window dressing,” Cullen observed. “What the JRP panelists signed up for is not what they’re doing.”
Originally, the JRP was to have the authority to make a binding decision. Changes introduced in August, 2012 under the Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38) by the federal government are widely regarded by industry observers to have stripped that authority away and given final decision-making authority to the federal government.
Now, Cullen said, the JRP will do the best that it can with the situation by outlining the hazards presented by the Enbridge proposal, and the conditions that might mitigate those hazards.
“If you are on that panel and you know what the Harper government’s conclusion already is, your only option is to mitigate the damage.”
For Cullen, the Enbridge agenda is driven by foreign interests, especially since the 2012 $15 billion sale of Calgary based Nexen Inc. to the China National Offshore Oil Company.
“Since the sale of Nexen to the Chinese government, it [the pipeline] has become a Chinese project as far as I’m concerned,” Cullen said.
“Whenever I hear Harper say that the pipeline is in the national interest, I have to assume he means the Chinese national interest.”
While Cullen is more than willing to carry the concerns of his constituents to Ottawa on the Enbridge issue, he looks forward to the day when the discussion is behind us, as he doesn’t believe that Enbridge will ultimately be able to get the social approval it needs to proceed.
“Enbridge sucks up so much oxygen,” Cullen said. “I’d rather be working on other things, like the missing salmon.”
Cullen was referring to this year’s massive decline of the Skeena fishery, which has impacted local First Nations heavily as well.