When I was a kid in the fifties and sixties in Calgary, we were utterly astonished that just next door there was a place where flowers bloomed in February, a full four months earlier than they would in Alberta. In spite of that difference, many young people came from British Columbia “to work up north” in Alberta where you could always get a job in seismic survey camps or on the rigs.
We all loved the outdoors, going to the mountains for winter sports and to the waterways for summer.
"As someone who feels completely at home in both, the tone of recent relations between our provinces has been unsettling for me. Increasingly we seem to be acting like siblings in a quarrel that is obstinate and escalating."
British Columbia and Alberta are the westerly-most two rooms of the Canadian household. We both have the peculiar “western” sensibility, where a person is what they make of themselves more than what they are born to. We traveled back and forth enjoying each other’s natural bounty tremendously. Like many Albertans, I surrendered to British Columbia’s thrall. In my later fifties I made it my home.
As someone who feels completely at home in both, the tone of recent relations between our provinces has been unsettling for me. Increasingly we seem to be acting like siblings in a quarrel that is obstinate and escalating.
Albertans say things like “B.C. can’t see its way clear to stop dumping raw sewage in the ocean and provides permits to Mount Polley to dump toxic mining tailings into the pristine freshness of Lake Quesnel. But they want to forbid us from using the safest tankers ever built? Alberta has shared its prosperity and benefited the rest of Canada by paying transfer payments from fossil fuel revenues for generations. But B.C. is trying to choke off our ability to realize on that resource now that we’re facing one of our greatest times of need.”
Some British Columbians (full disclosure - myself among them) have said “no” to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. They cite threats of local, regional and global environmental degradation and responsibility to our descendants. Heels are dug in because with respect to that project a process is ongoing, and, unlike the 10,000 abandoned coalmines and countless other industrial scars in B.C. which already exist, the electorate may still prevent this risk of additional damage to our natural bounty. Our governance process leaves us with only this sliver of hope that we may have some power left to protect what we love.
Albertans quite understandably point out to me that, of all the CO2 released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels on Earth, Canada’s accounts for only a few per cent. And so until we change China, Russia, India and USA, just about anything we do in Canada won’t make a difference in the end. We’ll be using fossil fuels pretty much on the present scale for the foreseeable future, at least 10 years and maybe 50. It makes no sense for us to not participate in that resource through the responsible transition period of those years.
Remarks to me on Facebook about our stand on Kinder Morgan
- “OK so now Dave Suzuki is Buddha reincarnated? Lol, we really do have to groan over the protestations of the self absolving wet coast - they don't care enough to save a thousand year old tree let alone come up with a credible plan to stop shitting in the ocean but want to tell us how to develop energy?”
- “Once or twice you came very close to making sense. But the rant is so weakened by your lack of any kind of consistent direction. You're like a blind sword fighter.”
- “Neither the BC government nor the anti-pipeline protesters in BC have any credibility left. This will become clear in time.”
- “Pure, 100% anti-Alberta sentiment. Let’s just speak the truth and drop the sugarcoating. This country is long doomed. Go ahead. Separate.”
- “It does not matter that the ERCB, the Fed’s studies, engineers, biologists and other professionals have cleared the project. It does not matter. The eco lobby will just come up with another argument. It's now about tailing ponds and Steam Assisted Gravity Drilling, and the Paris Accord, and First Nations (some of whom actually support the project!). None of that matters to zealots whose agenda is passion driven. To the Ecos it's black and white. No amount of risk mitigation would suffice. There is always something else.”
Yes, there always is.
We have a future together
My mother lived all of 90 years in Calgary except five years in the Maritimes as an army mom. Our next door neighbor, Rich Swann, taught us to ride when we were kids. The Swanns kept ponies west of Priddis in the exquisite foothills of the Rockies. When I was thrown he told me “A good cowboy gets right back on” and up I went. We mountain biked, cross country skied and scrambled as much as anybody, skated for miles on the Elbow River in minus 25 no problem all day long.
And now I’ve lived in British Columbia over 12 years, in the unspeakably gorgeous Gulf Islands. Eagles, herons, Canada geese and raven, otters, seals, sea lions and Orca, deer, raccoon, frogs and sharp-tailed snakes raise their kids in our trees, in our yard and in the ocean at its edge. They wander by my desk. I’ve rowed my boat near a dozen sea lions, all watching carefully that I did not threaten their young.
In all this natural bounty we are right to be deeply grateful, to be properly astonished at our great fortune compared to almost anybody else on Earth. Both places mean the world to me.
Part of our fortune is that this will all be here for a long time after the issue of the Kinder Morgan pipeline is settled. Either way. But maybe not for as long as we wish or imagine. Still there will always be something else.
We have a future together, all of us. And it will include increasingly dramatic examples of the negative effects of climate change, nearly certainly caused by burning of fossil fuels for energy. “Funny though, the further away we are from something, the easier it is to resolve” my friend Jim Hoggan likes to say. And it’s true. We’d sooner fight for things that are near and dear, dismissing the unfamiliar as if it were nothing. But the truth is that as global climate change escalates, we will not be able to remain so far away from our future that climate change will seem no big deal.
The unfairness this change will bring is as undeniable as it is unavoidable. Climate change has had the worst impact on the poorest people in the world first and foremost. The breadth of their suffering need hardly be repeated here. Yet even we already have had to rebuild cities ravaged by storm and fire. The trajectory of history has repeatedly, thankfully, led us away from certain practices or industries and on to others.
And so, in the upcoming years, we must rebuild energy. Within our society, this major shift will dislodge hundreds of thousands of people who will be left to find new means of livelihood. The primary bearers of the burden of that change are entitled to our understanding, to our support and to our investment. So we must not only consider their challenges. We must also assist those transitioning out of the fossil fuel industry over the upcoming decades.
But in the same way, those who feel the need to stand for and to live up to what they consider to be their responsibilities, both personally and on behalf of our descendants, must also be entitled to respect for their commitment to that responsibility which is common to us all. Innovators and visionaries are often met with hatred and resistance. But time is inevitably their truest supporter.
Our great Western spirit is squandered bickering when it could be lighting the way forward in a direction that most would agree, sooner or later, is inevitable.
Joe Carbury uplifted people as he called the chuck wagon races at the Calgary Stampede for fifty years. Joe Fortes, out of the goodness of his heart, saved swimmers in English Bay a century ago and taught children to swim. Kilsli Kaji Sting Miles Richardson of the great Haida Nation, asked by a logging company chief to listen to the company’s five year plan, answered “We don’t care about your five year plan. We want to hear about your five hundred year plan.”
And fifty years ago Joni Mitchell sang “Both sides Now” in Calgary’s The Depression coffee house and has been singing “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone” ever since. As they did then and do now, in one hundred years from now other great spirits will follow in their example. That time is coming every bit as quickly as one hundred years ago now recedes. I think we will do a lot better in many ways if we acted like we knew it. Let’s prepare for our evident future wholeheartedly. Leading the way to build Canada’s energy future. Together. And starting now not later.
Whether Kinder Morgan goes through or particularly if it does not, I hope we’ll be able to say – “Good luck Alberta, hope you’ll be responsible and that it all works out well for you.”
And again, in any event, I think that Albertans old and new will turn west in good will and say “Bless your hearts, British Columbia, for keeping us on notice of our enduring responsibilities.”
Editor's note: Due to an editing error, this opinion piece was updated for clarity at 10:16 a.m. on June 8, 2018.