Mark Hobson, a Tofino artist famous for his wilderness paintings and advocacy, is pleased by the news that plans for a Northern Gateway pipeline were officially rejected by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government on Nov. 29.
The Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway proposal would have seen the construction of a pipeline from the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta to a marine export terminal in Kitimat, B.C.
Hobson has been fighting the project since 2011. He said the big concern wasn’t the pipeline, but the tankers carrying the oil.
“My connection with the North has been ongoing. Years ago when I was just a teenager, my parents moved to Kitimat,” Hobson recalls.
“We would go up and down that Douglas Channel. It’s an 86-nautical mile trip. It’s not like there was an issue with the freighters going up and down, but those huge tankers I mean, the Exxon Valdez was a ship that was one sixth the size of the tankers that were going to go in and out of Kitimat,” he said.
“To anybody that knows that area, the main Douglas Channel, the biggest danger is when you get to the end of that Channel getting out to the open sea is through about six or seven kilometres of the most incredibly swallow water.”
To raise public awareness for the region where the tankers were destined to journey, Hobson partnered with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation to create a 160-page book entitled Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil-Free Coast. The book features original art from 50 esteemed Canadian and First Nations artists like Robert Bateman and Roy Henry Vickers, with a foreword written by David Suzuki. The project, which was first published in 2012, raised over $125,000 for the Oil-Free Coast campaign.
“We got a group of artists together to show the public what an amazing place the Great Bear Rainforest is. We had nine months to produce the art,” he said. “It is such a remote area. Luckily I knew quite a few of the charter operators. We flew up to Bella Bella. One group went south, one group went north, another group went east.”
The book was divided into nine unique chapters that cover the region, the people, sea birds, land mammals, marine mammals, forests, estuaries, salmon, and the underwater marine life of Canada’s Pacific coast. Hobson, who is also a trained biologist, contributed a painting to the sea birds section called Pelagic Cormorants: Diving for Gobies.
“It all worked and maybe partly because why this [Northern] Gateway project was cancelled might well be because of this project,” said Hobson. The same day Prime Minister Trudeau rejected the Northern Gateway project, he conditionally approved the development of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. It has been widely reported that if the Trans Mountain gets built, the amount of tankers shipping oil overseas would increase from five per month to 34.
Hobson said the dramatic rise in oil tanker traffic would guarantee a disaster.
“There are hundreds of freighters going out there now. Those tankers are so much bigger and they are so much more difficult to manoeuvre. Just keep adding numbers and eventually there’s an accident. It’s not if, it’s when,” he said.