A long tradition of political walks in support of political or social concerns have captured the world’s attention and imagination throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Ghandi’s Salt March in 1930 set the stage for a shift of power on the Indian sub-continent. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington was a pivotal point in promoting racial equality. And the recent Women’s Marches caught the attention of the world.
It’s the sort of attention that Bobby Arbess, the lead organizer for the Walk 4 Salish Sea hopes to stimulate when he and a host of supporters take to the road to draw attention to the opposition to the recent approval for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion by the federal government.
More generally, Arbess hopes to draw attention to fossil fuel expansion (particularly in the tar sands of Alberta) and the ecological damage being inflicted on our environment in the “absence of social license or indigenous consent.”
“The decision to allow for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion has a strong potential for devastating environmental damage to our province, particularly the coastal communities and indigenous lands. We’re trying to make our voices heard to stop this very bad decision before it’s too late,” said Arbess.
Opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline is nothing new.
The proposal dates back to 2013 when Kinder Morgan applied to the National Energy Board for permission to expand the existing pipeline, with the intention of tripling its carrying capacity. The existing pipeline dates back to 1953 when the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby was first completed. Since that time the two most significant spills in relation to the pipeline occurred in 1985 (when 1.6 million litres spilled near Edmonton) and in 2007 (when 224,000 litres spilled, 70,000 litres finding its way to Burrard Inlet).
Critics of the requested expansion were hopeful when, in Oct. of 2015 Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won a parliamentary majority, thanks in part to a record-breaking 17 seats in B.C. Trudeau’s campaign had, as part of its platform, touted the need for clean energy and the stewardship of the environment.
Nonetheless, in May of 2016 the National Energy Board approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, subject to 157 conditions. Environmentalists complained at the time of a tainted process due to the limits of who had been allowed to testify at the Board hearings.
On Nov. 29, 2016 Trudeau announced the approval of the project.
Adam Olsen, former Central Saanich District councillor, former Interim Leader of the B.C. Green Party and current candidate in the upcoming provincial election, was part of that process.
“I was an intervenor at the Energy Board hearings in 2014 on behalf of the Tsartlip First Nation and have always strongly opposed this project … a project that should never happen. It commits us for decades to the expansion of investment in the expansion of fossil fuels and pipelines at a time when we should be looking toward 21st century technologies,” said Olsen.
He added the walk will not only focus attention to the enormous environmental risks associated with the project but will have the added benefit of helping the First Nations communities raise the funds they need to mount court challenges to the work. The organization is called RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs), and it helps fund the very expensive charter challenges required for First Nations groups trying to block the pipeline.
“There are significant aboriginal interests in the Salish Sea and they have been ignored. Now, there is very little confidence in this process–it’s a facade, and it just feeds the cynicism First Nations have about the government. The Prime Minister said his number one relationship he wanted to make right was with indigenous people and this is completely opposite to that,” said Olsen.
“This walk will help to focus, not only on the First Nations concerns regarding the project, but on the significant environmental risks we all face in the face of Kinder Morgan,” said Arbess.
He points to the immediate impact on the resident orca populations as the project will result in the seven -fold increase in tanker traffic. He also said the risk of a spill in the Salish Sea with the massive increase in the number of tankers means it’s not a matter of if a spill will take place, but when, and how much damage it will do.
“A massive bitumen spill would devastate our coast, our rivers – affecting salmon, orcas, drinking watersheds, and whole communities. It’s just not worth the risk,” he said.
The four day walk, from May 24 to 28, will traverse more than 75 kilometers from Mile Zero in Victoria to the Westridge Kinder Morgan Terminal.
The walk will be interspersed with daily breakfasts and suppers featuring a variety of speakers.
One of those speakers, Saanich-Gulf Island MP Elizabeth May will speak on the first day of the march and intends to participate in the walk over several days.
“I’m walking in solidarity with First Nations leadership, from Victoria all the way to Burnaby,” she said.
May has been highly critical of the decision to proceed with the pipeline.
In a November interview with the Huffington Post she stated that there is no social license to approve the project and that the government has”no evidentiary case” to proceed.
Full details on the walk and the scheduled events can be found at walk4salishsea.ca.
— Black Press