More than three decades ago the federal government decided the risk of an oil spill outweighed possible economic benefits from a pipeline across Northern B.C.
And Len Marchand — Canada’s environment minister from 1977-79 — said Friday the same concerns today mean B.C. and Canada should turn down Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Marchand served as the MP for Kamloops-Cariboo from 1968 to 1979, and as a senator from 1984 to 1998. He was Canada’s first First Nations cabinet minister.
“What worried me were the tankers — there would be a spill,” said Marchand, recalling the proposed Kitimat pipeline.
“We said, ‘At some point a tanker will go down.’”
Together with his Liberal cabinet colleagues, Marchand killed a pipeline proposal in 1978.
In 1976, according to Archives Canada, Kitimat Pipelines Ltd. applied to the National Energy Board for permission to construct a deep-sea oil port at Kitimat. This was in response to American demands for oil in the wake of the Arab embargo of the early ‘70s.
Canada reduced exports to the United States after the embargo, causing American demand for oil imports from elsewhere. A pipeline was proposed that would send oil from Alaska, Indonesia and the Persian Gulf by tanker to Kitimat, where it would be sent by pipeline to Edmonton.
From there oil would be shipped to the United States’ Midwest.
Then, like now, area First Nations were strongly opposed and used their ties to Marchand to exert pressure to kill the proposal.
“They were really after me,” said the 78-year-old retired cabinet minister and senator who lives in Sahali.
“It’s the same now.”
Today both the Conservative federal government and Alberta governments are backing the proposed $5.5-billion twin line that would send crude oil and bitumen to the Kitimat port from Edmonton and send condensate to Alberta in the other line.
Marchand said a number of influential Liberals opposed the Kitimat pipeline idea, including Kitimat-area MP Iona Campagnolo, later Canada’s first female Lieutenant Governor.
Joining Marchand and Campagnolo in opposing the pipeline were fisheries minister Romeo Leblanc and Minister of Transportation Otto Lang.
“It was easy to convince the prime minister (Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau),” Marchand said. “We had no problem at all getting through to Pierre.”
Marchand said he believes B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake “is the right man” in the position. But he said the pipeline shouldn’t be allowed, no matter what the promises of safety or money offered.
“That part of the Pacific is one of the greatest natural food producing areas,” said the grassland scientist and former University of B.C. faculty member.