If you Google the term “Northern Gateway” the first website that pops up is Enbridge owned and uses the domain name northerngateway.ca. Enbridge’s website is followed by a Wikipedia page on the project and various news headlines stating that a “Titanic Clash” is about to occur between opponents of the proposed pipeline and the Conservative government. Stephen Harper described opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline as “radicals” trying to hijack the Canadian regulatory system for their own ideological reasons.
When the public hears the terms radical and protestors together, images of black bloc protestors smashing windows immediately comes to mind (at least it does for me). However, many of the opponents of the pipeline hardly fit this description. On the same day Harper’s “radical” statement was published, the Globe and Mail posted an online article titled “Faces of so-called radicalism” that profiled three opponents of the pipeline. One of the opponents they interviewed was a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative who once ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate. The “radical” pipeline opponent they profiled, Mike Hicks, is now working side by side with an environmental organization he used to quarrel with in order to protect his community from an oil disaster.
This political moment immediately made me think of protestors I encountered at the demonstration on Parliament hill in September against the proposed XL Keystone pipeline and the Alberta tar sands. Conservative MP Jason Kenney tweeted that the protestors present on the hill were “extremists” and Conservative MP David Anderson used the same term to describe protestors when responding to a question posed by NDP environment critic Megan Leslie. The people I met that day may have resorted to measures beyond the norm but I will argue their measures were certainly not extreme.
Yes, people got arrested. However, they stood in line in an orderly and polite fashion waiting to cross the security line until police told them it was their turn. They then hopped over the security barrier or were kindly helped over by RCMP officers (as a healthy percentage of the protestors were elderly) and sat patiently in the grass before they were cable-tied and escorted off crown land. Other demonstrators stood on the grass beside the center block path, sang songs and chanted slogans of support for those who decided to brave a sixty-dollar fine in the name of the environment.
I personally chose not to get arrested, instead I held a sign and remained present to show my support for the demonstrators who were arrested and demonstrate my own personal political beliefs. According to Kenney and Anderson, this makes me an extremist? So what did this extremist do when she had spent enough time in the baking hot sun at the rally? Sat around discussing radical ways to stop the pipeline from being built? Nah. I biked home, put on a record, ate some ice cream, and discussed with a friend and fellow protestor our thoughts on the rally.
I’m not saying that there aren’t “radical” or “extreme” activists out there, there are. And maybe you feel that choosing to get arrested was a radical or extreme action, that’s fine. What’s important is that we constantly question the language surrounding political issues. The name “Northern Gateway” for the proposed pipeline alone makes me notice the importance of the language surrounding it politically. I will forever long for the days when a term like Northern gateway would make me think of a Lawren Harris painting instead of a greenwashed pipeline. So, perhaps the only thing “radical” and “extreme” concerning the opponents of both the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline is the rhetoric surrounding them.