A B.C. Referendum for Enbridge Pipeline? Why Not!

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Should BC Have a Referendum on Enbridge?
by Rafe Mair l The Canadian.org
If there’s one thing above all politicians hate it’s democracy. For God’s sake, we can’t have the rabble have a say in decisions! Let them do this once and we’ll never get to run the province again! They believe that we live in a parliamentary, representative “democracy” which means that we hire people, called representatives, to do our thinking for us and take decisions in our name.
 
Any thinking citizen knows that the public, for many reasons, cannot grapple with all the issues and email a vote on each one. The theory of our government, runs the mantra, is that at election time we can throw those we disagree with out on their duffs. That, at any rate, is the theory.
 
In practice that doesn’t happen, which means that a government does what it wishes - subject only to elections every four years at which time new issues cloud the old.

There is a way that the public can be consulted: a referendum.

This is a tool used in many different ways, under different systems - sometimes as a method to get rid of a politician, sometimes to eradicate legislation, sometimes only to go to governments as popular advice.
 
I believe there are issues of such importance that the voter must be called upon to render its opinion and I say that the Enbridge pipelines and tanker traffic are just such issues.
 
On the national scene, in 1992 we had a referendum on changing our constitution when the government could have sought approval of the provinces. This vote was held because the issues went to the root of our social contract.
 
The referendum resulted in heavy debate in the country, especially in BC. Canada turned down the proposed agreement with BC by far the biggest “no” vote.
 
In BC recently we had a referendum on the HST. It was easy to handle on the technical side and the public made its decision.
 
Whether or not that vote was an example of a debate that went to the root of our system of governance is debatable but I give you an issue that clearly does. I refer to the proposed twin pipelines to Kitimat, the subsequent tanker traffic and the expansion of the Kinder Morgan line and its increase in tanker traffic on the south coast. This package of policies to bring bitumen to our coast and ship it by tanker does indeed present a permanent change in policy on an issue that certainly goes to the root of our way of life.
 
That these Enbridge pipelines will leak is now beyond debate and it’s crystal clear that even if the company does get to a spill in wilderness BC, there is nothing it can do – the damage will be permanent. It’s the same, we surely must agree, with a tanker spill in our coastal waters. Enbridge has an appalling record, over 800 spills since 1998. Moreover, apart from temporary jobs in construction and a handful of permanent jobs, BC gets nothing for being the overland conduit for the highly toxic bitumen from the Tar Sands.
 
Prime Minister Harper and his Resources Minister Joe Oliver are talking about this all being a done deal.
 
Does the destruction of our environment not seem to you to be a matter we the public should have a say in?
 
In making this case I understand that it would not disturb First Nations land and other claims.
 
Let's be clear on this – Prime Minister Harper hasn’t any time for democracy.
 
Because these issues are so important, Premier Clark should hold a referendum but she hasn’t the courage – she’s afraid to threaten Harper on the HST and of more concern, she wants Harper to withhold all support for John Cummins at the local level. That should be easy since Harper and Cummins loathe one another.
 
So to Premier Photo-Op: Madam, BC has jurisdiction over is coastline so let’s have that referendum.
 
Oops! I nearly forgot – is the debate I proposed between you and me on our environmental policy a go?
 
Surely you, with an entire government be behind her, can’t be afraid of taking on an old man who would only bring to the debate all he has left – a fire in his belly!
 
Back to business – will you have a referendum and let the people decide what must be the law concerning pipelines and tanker traffic in this province of ours?
 
If not, why not?  
 
 
Rafe Mair was a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. Since 1981 he has been a radio talk show host, and is recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists.
 
 

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