Sign of the Times: A placcard from the recent rally against expanded oil pipeline and tanker traffic through Vancouver

Tar Sands Pipelines: Our Moment of Truth


I’m writing this in Bergen, Norway, after a cruise from Leith (Edinburgh) Scotland that took us past many oil rigs – giving pause to remember that we’re as dependent on oil as we ever were – in fact, perhaps more so. A day or two ago I read in an article in the Guardian Weekly how the US, by growing corn for methane gas for cars, was contributing to starvation in the Horn of Africa. I thought of the passionate embracing of weaning ourselves off carbon fuels done by our governments as they rush to help Alberta further screw up the environment. While this is going on, I watch as president Obama wrestles with the long Trans-Canada pipeline from the Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico as celebrities march their way into jail in protest.

I reflect. We are, I think, at the moment of truth. Either we stop these pipelines or the environmental movement becomes like unions were under communism – pallid burlesques of what we once were, now reduced to patronizing speeches by corporations and governments when they feel the need for some fuzzy warmness from the inert masses that now do precisely as they are told.

Of course there is no environmental movement as such. I can’t even define what an environmentalist is when you have turncoats calling themselves environmentalists as they figuratively peddle their ass to corporate interests while pocketing huge bucks in the bargain.

I think I’m an environmentalist and place my record in government and in the media out for scrutiny, but I’m sure many would disagree. No matter, because what does count is how we all comport ourselves from this moment forward.

We are facing massive corporatist takeovers of our societies and the governments that are supposed to be our protectors. It scarcely needs demonstration in BC where, hand in hand, our governments have helped rapacious corporations ruin our fisheries, wreck our environment, make power we don’t need which our own power company must buy at a loss, while we cede our farmland and nature preserves to huge interests which have no stake in preserving our precious resources.

And now it’s pipelines across our wilderness and tankers down our priceless coastline. To rub salt in the wounds, we are asked to be prostitutes without pay – in fact, we are the legitimate hookers’ worst enemies, enthusiastic amateurs.

We must unite! This is the definitive fight. If we lose this, all is lost and we’ll be reduced to a land where there are a few “game” preserves to attract wealthy hunters and the occasional highly expensive streams where the rich can, after a lottery, fish at great profit to large international guide/outfitter companies. It’s as serious as that.

We first must know what we’re fighting – “who” doesn’t matter, for they all wear they same uniform and have the same mission. What we’re fighting for is simply stated: pipelines will burst and tankers will founder. We are not talking “risks” here but mathematical certainties. This is the truth of the matter and we must not be hoodwinked by talk of acceptable “risks”.


Corporations spend huge amounts on “feel good” bullshit and the worse the polluter, the higher it’s piled. We must never lose sight of this.

What must be done?

I spoke of unity but fully acknowledge we can’t have a single coalition of all or even many environmental groups. Apart from the impossibility of such a merger, it would be a bad idea.

What must happen is that we all support those who have made the stopping of these pipelines their #1 priority. Such a group – led by the estimable author and co-founder of Greenpeace, Rex Weyler, is now active. What we all must do is multi-task and continue the battles we all wage, yet throw all the energy and funding we can into the fight against these pipelines and tankers.

I might as well spit it out. We must march and picket and refuse to give way – we will, then, be called upon to disobey the law. And, we must be prepared to go to jail.

The pattern will be the usual abuse of process practiced by the companies, fully supported by the governments they control. Picketers will be ordered by the court – which will issue injunctions turning civil protest into a crime – to cease by a judge from his lofty high paid perch, who will impress upon the sinner the need for the law to be obeyed even though it is a clear affront to justice. Picketers will refuse and will go to jail.

I offer this suggestion: We are up against a foe with a limitless amount of money, which, having obtained the law, not caring that justice was lost in the process, will continue to throw in jail for unlimited sentences decent citizens whose only sin is trying to protect their heritage.
We must also set up an ongoing fund to look after those attacked by the corporation/government. Not only will these folks lose their income, the companies will sue for damages and seize their assets, including savings and pension funds. This fund should start now and be set up with a trustee to look after those who will not only lose their freedom but also have their assets on the line for the common good.

Now…let us go to work, beat the bastards and save our heritage!


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

9 thoughts on “Tar Sands Pipelines: Our Moment of Truth

  1. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Lyn. I truly believe the grandparent-grandchild relationship is key to dealing with these challenges – for precisely the reasons you identify. We’ve done a lot town hall meetings around the province over the past several years, discussing these issues, and we see more and more grand parents in the audience. When they ask us what they can do to help with the battle, I always encourage them to get their grand kids involved in the issues they’re passionate about. I know how much love and respect I have for my grand parents and how much they’ve been an example to me as a young person; and they now actively follow and support my work, as do my parents – which means the world to me. I’m sure you can get your granddaughters to feel the way you do – and I bet they’d enjoy marching alongside you at a rally if you invited them and explained to them why you feel the way you do. They’ll probably wind up bragging to their friends about their butt-kicking, activist granny 🙂

  2. KWD, when I said low-hanging fruit I meant re: giving Rafe a hard time about taking a cruise. Naturally, someone would have to go there – and I don’t begrudge them that. I didn’t for a moment suggest that personal choices aren’t important – merely that they pale in comparison to the policy changes we need to make as a society to confront the challenges we face in a meaningful way. Like I say, call us all hypocrites – that’s your prerogative; so long as we’re clear that we’re all hypocrites when it comes to personal consumption choices. Moreover, I guarantee you’ve never heard us peddle techno-fixes here – on that note, check out my TEDx talk – titled, of all things “Beyond the Techno-Fix”: As for Rafe taking a cruise, guilty as charged. Moving on… Now, I better let you get back to tending the garden at the monastery where you live in complete self-sufficiency. And let me say I admire how you communicate with your organic, home-made, pedal-powered computer.

  3. I have come full circle from the days when I thought ‘protesters’ were simply those who had nothing better to do. Now I am retired and have lots to do, but nothing better than to do everything in my power to stop this damned oil pipeline business alongside the tanker one.
    I only hope my granddaughters understand how deeply I feel about this battle.

  4. The low hanging fruit is gone and so are the days of pretending we can legislate and innovate our way through the mess past legislation and pretense have created. We’ve built global socioeconomic systems that demand growth and a continued supply of cheap energy. Those that believe the technology fairy will leave a cure for the ever-increasing cost of oil, the unrelenting ecological damage of 7 billion energy-demanding souls or alternative energy’s failure to supply all that is necessary for continuing the luxurious lifestyles we’ve become accustomed to, under our pillow, are naïve at best

  5. “The big things we need to do” will require choices that mean individual sacrifice. And that sacrifice will be more painful than most are willing to accept. To pretend otherwise is misleading. Of course, if one justifies their behaviour based on the delusional insistence that changes in public policy are all that is required, and those changes require flying to Chile, cruising the Atlantic or carrying the Suzuki gospel to the already-converted in Europe, it becomes easier to avoid examining and questioning the thinking that determines individual behaviour and easier to avoid the pain sacrifice guarantees.

  6. Maybe they should run the pipeline down into washington and out to the pacific further south. This way the world gets its oil and we get our coastline.

  7. Duly noted, Wilson. Someone had to pluck that low-hanging fruit. You could say the same of David Suzuki, jetting around the world, or the activists who journeyed to DC recently for the Keystone protests, or myself for flying to Norway and Chile to document the salmon farming industry, or anyone who’s ever taken a vacation or traveled across the country to visit loved ones for that matter…And yet, the changes we need to make are far more about political policy than individual consumer choices. The big things we need to do – like improving public transit, protecting farmland, stopping the subsidizing of oil and gas, preventing the expansion of the Tar Sands through dangerous pipelines and tanker routes, managing our public utility and electrical consumption for conservation, not private profits, re-localizing manufacturing, conserving our ecosystems, etc. – all require broad-based public policy changes and leveraging the power of government to positive ends. You can call Rafe or me or pretty much anyone else who ever leaves their home or uses hydrocarbons a hypocrite – that’s your prerogative. We note your objection and carry on with the work at hand.

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