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This weeks column for 24hrs Vancouver: Battle over Clayoquot Sound shows the power of peaceful protests

Columnists Laila Yuile and Brent Stafford battle over the issues of the day. The winner of last week’s duel on Russia was Brent at 65%.

This week’s topic:

Is civil disobedience an acceptable way to stop the Northern Gateway Pipeline?

Growing up in a rural area just north of Prince George — in a family that relied on both the land and the forestry industry to survive — was a precious gift from my parents. Admittedly, I didn’t fully realize this until I was an adult with children of my own, and felt an immense pressure to leave them with the ability to enjoy as much of the province as I did growing up.

We spent summers exploring wild country filled with hidden lakes, fishing, hunting and gathering in tune with the seasons — a way of life many still live today in many areas of B.C.

Read Brent Stafford’s column

However, on a visit home during the early 1990s while the “War in the Woods” of Clayoquot Sound played out for the world to see, my dad and I argued over “those bloody tree-huggers.” He defended logging, while I was adamant that trees as old as time should not be cut. It was a sticky point for us until years later, faced with the results of mismanaged and poorly crafted forest policies, he began to see the writing on the wall.

Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

The Clayoquot Sound battle was an epic example of lasting change that was a direct result of civil disobedience. Faced with the prospect of ancient coastal rainforests being logged, hundreds of protesters blocked logging trucks. In the end, they prevented the forest from being cut….

Read the rest of this weeks duel, vote and comment at


  1. Clayoquot is iconic mainly because of the relatively bigger crowd of protesters. Nightly newsreels of police bodily hauling men and women into paddy wagons topped even coverage and interest in the Lyell Island protest, even though the latter was probably more consequential in its own and larger contexts. The difference was exposure, the illustration is how civil disobedience relies on it to succeed. That’s not to say other examples didn’t have successes, by themselves and in contribution to a larger movement—actions like the NitNat Triangle, Meares Island, the Carmanah and the Stein—important all but Clayoquot’s high-viz awards it alone the icon of preservation protests. Nevertheless, together they helped bring about the Forest Practices Code, a much needed overhaul of antiquated forestry practices heavily favouring that industry, brought in by Mike Harcourt’s NDP government of the early 90s, and a doubling of land protected in parks and ecological preservation areas.

    Connected as these civil disobediences are to the existential narrative of BC, that is, how we create wealth responsibly from natural resources while preserving enough to sustain its natural condition (the source of a once great tourism industry) and settle land claim portions of outstanding First Nation treaty obligations—it seems their importance could hardly be overstated.


  2. There’s another long-running struggle with relevant lessons for those opposing Enbridge, K-M, coal export ports etc. – Alcan’s attempt to divert even more of the Nechako River to allow smelter expansion i.e. the Kemano “Completion” Project.

    Books have been written on this history, but some key lessons are:
    1 – you have accept that you’re going to be playing the long game – because the other side certainly is;
    2 – you need to try everything (lobbying, legal actions, support inside the bureaucracy from sympathetic experts, public awareness campaigns etc.) because you can never predict where and when the critical tipping point will occur;
    3 – allied groups will wax and wane in their enthusiasm as leadership and membership changes;
    4 – you can never predict who your most valuable allies will be;
    5 – corollary to #4: be prepared to be let down by people who seemed to be your allies;
    6 – never underestimate the value of stalling for time!

    For example, although the legal actions against the 1987 Settlement Agreement were ultimately successful, they did help run out the clock until the change of government in Victoria in 1991. A key opponent of KCP had extracted a written promise from Harcourt that an NDP government would have proper environmental hearings on the project, and he was promptly reminded of this after the election. He engaged Murray Rankin (familiar name?) in 1992 to provide advice, and although the result was quite timid (i.e. no cancellation of the project because of worries about investor confidence and lawsuits), it did at least result in the BC Utilities Commission hearings. Although the BCUC was given a crippled mandate, which only allowed it recommend terms and conditions, not address the real question – should the project proceed? – it did buy another couple of years of delay. During that time, the ground of public discussion fundamentally shifted, due in part to relentless campaigning by Rafe Mair, creating a safe space for the naturally cautious Harcourt finally to do the right thing and cancel the project in 1995. Though it pains me to say this, Gordon Campbell did come out in favour of KCP cancellation well before Harcourt, and that was a big part of creating that safe space.

    In the aftermath of cancellation, the NDP largely fumbled things before it was defeated, and almost 20 years later, there still are major unresolved issues regarding the management of the Nechako River. But the river was not further degraded, and that was a win, though the next generation might have to fight this all over again. I can’t believe that Alcan doesn’t have plans ready to dust off when they think that the balance of forces has shifted in their favour.


  3. Sub_Boreal’s points are excellent. The long game’s certainly on and we can see its example par excellence in the necessarily long, long struggle to realize FN treaties. The reality that alliances change, sometimes into diametrically opposite positions, is wisdom savvy politicians like Gordon Campbell take advantage of. The man who personally sought a court injunction to the signing of the Nisga’a treaty, then organized a shameful, racism provoking referendum to remind BC FNs they are outnumbered by whites, soon after got all apologetic, started getting feted at FN banquets festooned with ceremonial, guest of honour regalia. Campbell’s long game ethos (if you could call it that) might have come about the hard way: the whole-hog, short game of privatizing BC Rail was a disaster for him and his party; the take down of Ontario’s Mike Harris and Ernie Eves over the attempted but failed privatization of Ontario Hydro was sobering, as a figure of speech at least, for Premier Gordo, who thereafter adopted a piecemeal erosion of BC Hydro instead, IPPs and all. It’s certainly been interesting to watch the shifting alliances and antipathies between Greens, NDP, FNs, labour unions. The only jerked knee of the bunch belongs to the foolish positive campaigning NDP who’s Kinder Morgan flip flop was ill-considered, definitely not long game.


  4. On re-reading: I should have said in my 3rd pargraph that the legal actions weren’t successful.
    And the last sentence that I’d intended to add was: Looking back almost three decades, nobody could have predicted the ultimate outcome of the mid-80s skirmishes between Alcan and DFO, nor the constellation of actors and circumstances that killed KCP, at least for this generation.

    Elsewhere, the BC NDP’s incoherence on energy policy shows that if any lessons are being learned from the last election, they’re probably going to be the wrong ones. Their pretzel twists on fossil fuel projects are emblematic of the inherent limits of conventional political problem solving when applied to energy / climate dilemmas. If only, the politicos must be wishing, carbon dioxide was just another ethnic group, or a minority lifestyle demographic, or a regional grievance. You could apply the usual toolkit of pacification measures: neutralize the most annoying advocates by appointing them to something harmless, set up a roundtable to meet interminably, and sprinkle around some advertising or strategic public works.

    But then, most indifferently, the Keeling curve wiggles ever upward.

    My theory is that part of our problem is that so few elected officials have any scientific training. To the extent that any of them can think quantitatively, it’s only in the rubber room of economics. So I’m pleased to see that Dr. Weaver signed up for such an excellent adventure. Sure, he seems to be pretty conservative on many issues. And he can come across as a bit of diva at times. And the Greens in general serve as something of a flake magnet. But the guy has the science down cold, and isn’t afraid to be direct about where it leads. For now, I’ll chalk up his wobbles on Black’s fantasy tar sands refinery to his just being on the lower rungs of the learning curve of a new job. So I give him full marks for his little gambit during the throne speech debate, moving an amendment to deal with the ridiculous expansion of U.S. thermal coal trans-shipment. And the best that the Official Opposition could manage? Denounce this amendment because it didn’t make the Speech perfect enough, then triumphantly squash it 70-something to 1. Some real big-picture strategic thinking there, for sure. And the good Dr. has been able to say many of the things that need to be said about the LNG cargo cult. And of course the Libs and their media surrogates won’t miss a chance to give him disproportionate attention, no doubt causing much tooth-grinding in the Opposition caucus. But sometimes in the messy real world, the same person can be simultaneously the useful idiot (to some), a tiresome Cassandra (to others, who forget that Cassandra was right), and a refreshing voice of truth cutting through the crap (to yet others).

    Sure, Dix’s 11th-hour conversion on K-M wasn’t too swift in hindsight, measured by the results. But what if, in some parallel universe, the NDP (both provincial and federal) had decided well in advance, two or three years ago that their tar sands policy was this:
    – no further expansion of extraction and shipping for export markets, which means no K-M, no Northern Gateway, no Keystone XL, and no oil-bombs-by-rail
    – support national energy security by substituting domestic bitumen for imported oil in the East
    – a tax on exported oil that would be used to fund conservation measures and energy R&D
    I’d find that rather more motivating, certainly more so than the predictable squishiness from heir-apparent Farnworth.


  5. Good recommendations, Sub, but as to incoherence on energy policy, there’s enough of it to go around. Some time after the NDP government implemented natural gas licensing, thus opening up that industry, it got taken down by a combination of purely partisan rivalry and smear and, thereafter in opposition the lacklustre policy positions my have appeared as incoherent; but that wasn’t necessarily due to a dearth of scientists in caucus—the party’s had some obvious existential problems that have probably been more responsible for general weakness in all areas.

    It used to be the right-wing recommended profits over the environment and claimed the mantle of practicality; the left used to champion both trade unionism and the environment—before its extremities started turning green and falling off—for which it was branded as impractical; and the Greens, prior to becoming a parliamentary factor, were considered a notch or two loonier than impractical; wardrobe supplied the hardhat, the dunce cap and the propellor-beanie. Today it’s the neo-right BC Liberals that’ve gone totally looney on LNG, hamstrung and incoherent on Northern Gateway and laughably satanic on electricity; the Greens have moved over into the merely impractical slot once occupied by the NDP when it was their valley that was green with both tree huggers and tree harvesters; the NDP seem to remain where they have since Corky Evans conceded the party leadership to future federal Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh—just plain old incoherent, sort of centrist incoherent trying to cover bases it no longer has runners on: the unionized forest sector and the environmentalists.

    Most coherent positon these days comes from BC First Nations which, despite all the parochial and exceedingly complex politics at play with regard to treaties owed to them, recommends simply to slow down, protect the environment and settle treaties, making all parliamentary political parties’ energy policies look incoherent in comparison. The muscle behind this isn’t scientific, it’s Constitutional.


  6. Civil disobedience seems the only route left as we zero democracy and a dictatorial government that works for big corporations… all for us to speak up


  7. Scotty:
    Agreed on the cornucopia of incoherence; can’t quarrel with your excellent and pithy summary. Also agreed on the unique Constitutional foundation supporting the FN. I confess to holding my breath and crossing my fingers for them. Can folks already bearing so many burdens carry the weight of our expectations too? Is it fair to ask that?


  8. Sub: I know FNs appreciate support for their cause, even on the metaphysical level. It may be unfair in a sense that oppressed people wind up with the heavy lifting—and perverse that they effectively defend the mores of at least some of the very ethnic hegemony that has historically applied the suppression. But it would be wise to note each FN has a clear, long-run strategy which they themselves have cobbled together using the courts, the Constitution, two or sometimes three levels of government and a myriad of departments—really, some of the most complex, sophisticated and difficult negotiation in Canada’s history as befits a place in the universe for all time. To the extent they will at times accept gratefully popular political support, it must be remembered the essence of their fight will never be compromised in the way popular politics sometimes demand—forgetting that can lead to disappointment for, say, natural-state preservationists when this or that FN, by treaty settlement or negotiated provisions prior to settlement (what “meaningful consultation” entails), finally gets to realize some wealth from it traditional territories, so long deprived it, by resource extraction antithetical to strict preservationist ethos—which I think is what you meant above.

    I look at the fairness of it all as being somewhat academic in the realpolitik sense. It’ll be good when it’s fairer, good for everybody, not just FNs.


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