The Joint Review Panel tasked with assessing the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project was in Vancouver last week, and Ecotrust Canada was there to make an oral statement. While we don’t normally speak publically for or against industrial development projects because we are a community development organization and not an advocacy group, the involvement of so many of our partners and friends, and the potential impact on the work we have been doing over the past decades, made this a worthy exception, as we have previously written.

On January 15, 2013 Brenda Kuecks spoke on behalf of the Ecotrust Canada, and in her words, also as a mother and grandmother. The following is the text of her speech, taken from the official transcripts. You can find all the transcripts at the national energy board site.

MS. BRENDA KUECKS: Thank you.

Mr. Bateman, Ms. Leggett and Mr. Matthews, good morning and thank you so much for the concession [Ed: to change the order of speakers].

My name is Brenda Kuecks. I’m speaking today as the President of Ecotrust Canada. I have asked Jacqueline Koerner, in the purple scarf, who is our founding Board Chair, to join me in the room today in order to signify the importance of this issue for our organization, the people we work with, and the issues that we represent.

I would like to acknowledge before I begin, our presence today on Coast Salish territory, which I think is very relevant to the discussion and the deliberations which you folks are involved with, and I would ask — I will be asking that you recommend rejecting the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.

In addition to speaking in my role as the President of Ecotrust Canada, I am also here speaking as a mother of five and the grandmother of four. In representing them before you, I am asking for a future for this country that is healthy and safe and that affords them the opportunity to make their own unique contributions to this country and this world.

The emotions that I have witnessed watching the speakers before me from the waiting room are testimony to the fact that other people feel the same.

Finally, I have to say that I hate public speaking more than I hate liver, so please be assured that by standing in front of you or sitting in front of you this morning on the issue of the Northern Gateway pipeline I am signaling with my very being how important I believe it is that we get this one right, and how much I respect your role in carrying my voice as a Canadian forward to Ottawa.

I want to focus my presentation today on the question, is the Northern Gateway pipeline in Canada’s national best interest. I understand that this is the question that you want to explore as you endure your miles and miles of testimony across the country, and I hope that seven minutes from now, like the leagues of Canadians stepping forward on this issue, that you will be thinking no, it is definitely not in our best interest.

Ecotrust Canada is a federally registered charity. We’ve been operating in B.C. since 1994. Our work is to build an economy that works for people and for places. We use the language of the conservation economy. This is less about distinguishing our view of the world from those who would endorse an industrial economy as it is intended to highlight our belief that we cannot continue to build our economy on the premise that there is no such thing as depletion.

In fact, we are seeing depletion every day, species extinction, melting ice caps, extinguished cultures and languages, to name but a few.

At Ecotrust Canada we use four very simple questions to assess whether an economic activity, a business or an industry or a sector is bringing us closer to a conservation economy, which I believe is the kind of economy Canadians want.

These questions are:

  • does it provide meaningful work and good livelihoods;
  • does it support or encourage vibrant communities and cultures;
  • does it recognize and honour Aboriginal title and rights, and
  • does it conserve, protect or restore the natural environment with which it interacts.

 

I would gift these questions to you, Panelists, to use in your deliberations about the Northern Gateway pipeline.

I have been involved with community economic development for more than 30 years. I have the advantage of having started my career in Africa, so I have, as a foundational piece of my work and my opinions, a deep understanding of economic bifurcation where some are very rich and some are very poor.

I also have a fundamental instinct that there are limits, no matter how resilient they may seem, to what our natural ecosystems can endure before they collapse and are forever changed. I saw both of those things with my own eyes. This is not a kind of economic model that I dream about for my country.

I brought these beliefs with me to my economic work in Canada, where I was drawn into Ecotrust Canada because of the resonance of their work and my understanding of the world. Ecotrust was born out of environmental conflict. Its genesis and our mission came from the War in the Woods, the pisions, polarizations, legal battles, mass protests, civil disobedience and arrests of the nineties in places like Clayoquot Sound, the Karmana Valley, Haida Gwaii and the Kitlope.

Ecotrust was founded with a simple idea; surely there must be a better way to balance the needs of our Canadian economy, our communities and our environment.

The nineties taught us that an economy cannot grow and communities cannot prosper in an environment of conflict and pision where large corporations and governments attempt to impose unwanted development, especially where it directly conflicts with Aboriginal title and rights as yet to be ceded. We have seen that this can only be a destructive path.

In a place like Clayoquot Sound, where I lived for eight years, there are deep pides in these communities, even today, as a result of the early struggles between the forest industry and the environmental groups, and those deep pides continue to impact their ability to make positive change on the economic front.

Instead, at Ecotrust, we approach economic development from the bottom up, believing that the people and place where they live are the foundations for lasting prosperity. We know that it does not work to slip in to rural communities or First Nations territories with ready-made solutions or promises of the next mega project that will turn the economic tide.

British Columbians have seen the boom and bust cycles all too often and understand that all too well that the cost of short term economic success is borne by their children and grandchildren when the resources are gone. That the proposed pipeline has received widespread opposition from coastal British Columbians and for more than 130 First Nations, especially in the north coast, should be a surprise to no one. It goes against their constitutionally protected rights and against their cultural laws.

For nearly two decades, this organization has been working to demonstrate that it is possible to build an economy that takes advantage of the incredible natural resources of this country without resorting to the 19th century model of exploitation and raw materials export. Pursuing for Canada the role of hewers of wood and drawers of water, which is, interestingly enough, actually a Biblical allusion that refers to menial drudges and slaves, is a destructive option for most of the communities in B.C.

Indeed, many First Nations fishermen and communities with whom we work, including in the north coast where we’ve been on the ground for 10 years, worry that the pipeline will threaten their long-term prosperity. Testimony to date has articulated that it could threaten the area’s natural capital, which has been the foundation of their prosperity for centuries, it can cause acidification in the oceans and others have spoken much more articulately than I about the long-term impacts of climate change.

From all we know and from all that we do, it is my contention that the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline fits the old way of doing business, of building our national and regional economy. As such, it is pretty much the antithesis of the conservation economy that I seek.

It provides very few jobs considering the resources used. It offers nothing in support of vibrant communities or cultures. It would need to ignore Aboriginal title and rights in order to proceed, and it threatens or deteriorates both local and global environments.

Finally, I would like to just — in my closing statement say, how can an economic project that is driving across some of the most ecologically important, culturally significant, and physically beautiful landscape in our entire country possibly be in our national best interest?

Thank you very much.

JRP PANEL MEMBER MATTHEWS: Great, thanks a lot Ms. Kuecks.