OPINION: U.S. influence on pipeline debate goes both ways

Outrage over U.S. funding for environmentalist groups opposing U.S.-financed pipeline is rich

Less than five years ago, a train carrying oil blew up a Canadian town and killed 47 people.

You would think the dangers exposed by that event would help seal the case that an expanded pipeline is a good idea. A pipeline hasn’t blown up a Canadian town in my lifetime. And yet, those who advocate twinning the Trans Mountain Pipeline have continuously found themselves on the defensive.

I think a person can find good reasons to either support, or oppose, the project. Outside of small, very-loud and very passionate contingents on both sides, most British Columbians, I think, are similarly agnostic on the issue.

But with pipeline supporters looking to find a way to break into the consciousness of non-committed Canadians, they are increasingly turning to a rather bonkers argument.

The gist of it is that Americans have been throwing money at environmentalist groups that have hoodwinked Canadians into opposing a project obviously in their interest.

You have to break this down to see how ridiculous it is.

It is true that Americans have thrown money at environmental NGOs that have spoken out against the pipeline. Americans have certainly helped finance advertisements seen by many. But if you think that’s bad, wait until you hear that the company trying to build the pipeline is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and,, in an effort to win support for their project, has given British Columbia communities millions of dollars for local amenities. That company also employs their own public relations army to push positive stories about the pipeline.

The horror! Get thee to thy fainting couch.

You can’t be outraged about either one, without being equally disturbed by the other.

If pipeline proponents are being outspent by their adversaries, well, then I don’t even know the oil and gas industry anymore.

One person who trotted out this argument online, then suggested the environmentalists were doing “more with less.” In other words, the reason pipeline opponents were winning the PR game was because they were better at spreading their message.

Which checks out, and may be why the pro-pipeline groups have turned to nationalism.

In the past, environmentalists have railed against the non-Canadianness of corporations. Given that history (and the success of the tactic), those groups’ sources of funding do matter, and you can see why the pro-pipeline crew might try to appropriate that vocabulary.

But as a reason for genuine outrage or as an excuse for why some remain opposed to the pipeline project, it’s weak.

In the same way that a person might oppose a road change that will bring more traffic by their house but otherwise improve a community’s transportation system, it’s entirely rational for an individual to be opposed to a project that is in their nation’s greater interest.

The University of Alberta’s Andrew Leach, who helped design Alberta’s carbon tax, has made a good pro-pipeline case regarding the economy, politics and the climate. At the same time, it’s only natural for a 20-year-old Gulf Island resident to weigh the risks and benefits differently than a 50-year-old Aldergrove homeowner.

Which brings us back to the Canadian town that blew up. It’s not like the alternative to pipelines is particularly good. Trains are moving more and more oil, often right next to vital watercourses like the Fraser River. Those trains rush through major cities, past homes and businesses and people working. There are plenty of reasons to think that is not ideal, or in the best interests of thousands of British Columbians.

But instead of making that case, pipeline proponents are demonizing their adversaries as the pawns of Big Environment. No wonder they’re losing the public relations war to non-profits.


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