With a rallying cry of "No pipeline, no tankers, no problem," a Kootenay-to-Kitimat caravan opposed to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline rolled through Kamloops on Wednesday.
About 30 local opponents of the $5.5-billion project joined a small group of caravan organizers from Nelson for a short rally in front of City Hall before they marched together up Victoria to the TNRD Civic Building.
In support, NDP nominee Tom Friedman called on Premier Christy Clark to unite B.C. against the project, which imposes environmental risks on the province without sufficient economic benefits.
"There is a possibility of thousands of jobs taken off the coast of B.C.," Friedman said, citing the potential impact of a tanker spill on the marine environment and fisheries.
"This should not be a partisan issue; this should be an issue for all of B.C."
Keith Wiley, caravan organizer, said the protest is intended to increase awareness of the proposal among B.C. communities. It's not only the immediate environmental risks for B.C. that concern him but the implications for global warming.
"I think the whole country should be concerned. This will allow tar sands production to triple," he said, describing oil sands output as dirty carbon in relation to other fossil fuels.
"This is a pipeline that runs directly from the tar sands to the planet's atmosphere. It has to be stopped. We know, as a planet, we have to move away from oil."
The caravan — just four individuals strong — left Nelson on Monday, propelled in part by a Nelson city council vote opposing the project. Others had urged the protesters to stand up and do more, so they did. Wiley said more people in the Kootenays were prepared to join the caravan, but the 10-day journey was an issue for some.
"At the end of the day, we've got what we call the geezer gang," he quipped.
En route, they're gathering signatures of like-minded citizens and offering to help with local protests.
For people in the Kootenays, the impact of climate change has gone well beyond the theoretical in recent weeks, Wiley said. Floods and landslides — including one above Kootenay Lake last Thursday that claimed four lives — have stricken several communities. Late snowmelt has combined with heavy rainfall since June to push soils to dangerous levels of saturation.
"We've had two times the rainfall of the previous record," he said.
That sort of historic extreme is consistent with climate-change predictions.
Not everyone in front of City Hall agreed with the sentiments.
"Start working on solutions, not on protesting," said Sheila Archibald, one of a couple of people on hand who angrily resented the protest. "Set a business plan that creates jobs. People need the work."
Archibald, who described herself as a researcher, accused the protesters of not doing their homework on the pipeline/tanker proposal. Oil tankers are double-hulled to reduce the risk of spills, and the pipeline should be monitored for spills, she noted. The world needs the energy that the oil sands can provide, she told Wiley.
"We don't need protesters who are wasting time," she said. "We need the energy because we've backed ourselves into a corner."
Wiley said he is aware tankers are double-hulled and that the pipeline would be monitored.
"I don't think that will help make it safe. Records don't show that pipelines are that reliable."
There were a few former northern residents at the rally. Jerome Auriat described himself as a sports fisherman from Terrace who worked in Kitimat. He insisted that opposition to the project in the north is solid, although other accounts suggest otherwise.
"It's unanimously against the pipeline," Auriat said. "There was only one person at the (NEB) hearing in Kitimat who spoke for it. I have many friends in Kitimat and not one is in favour of the pipeline."
Opposition critics have accused Environment Minister Terry Lake and the Liberal government of withholding information and sitting on the fence because they have not released the province's own technical review of the Enbridge proposal.
At the rally, Friedman called on Lake to release the report.
Lake has said it would be premature to release the report at this point, while the premier has urged patience on the matter.
He said Wednesday that the province intends to take full advantage of its intervener status at the NEB hearings. That status, in contrast with the government status other senior governments have chosen for the hearings, allows greater flexibility.
"We have the right to cross-examine Enbridge and the right to put forward our own arguments," he said. "We get to ask questions of all the other participants.
"We decided on the intervener status after a suggestion by the NDP after the budget estimates, yet they keep criticizing us," he added.
"In the coming weeks, we'll see the position of the government get crystallized around principles," Lake said before hopping aboard a floatplane.
The caravan, meanwhile, moves on to Williams Lake Thursday.