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Review

The Answer is Still No: Voices of Pipeline Resistance

By Paul Bowles and Henry Veltmeyer, Editors

September 30, 2015

Review By Jonathan Peyton

The Answer is Still No is a disparate collection of voices united in opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines: First Nations activists and hereditary chiefs, members of the environmental movement establishment and those self-consciously on its fringes, youthful activists ushering in new strategies of dissent, and seasoned campaigners offering the experience of years in the proverbial trenches. Fisherman and world-renowned carvers appear in these pages alongside stalwart metropolitan veterans and incidental environmentalists, for example Shannon McPhail of Hazelton, whose questions about the effects of drilling for gas in the headwaters of salmon-bearing rivers made her, very unexpectedly, one of the most prominent voices in opposition to the heedless development of industrial and extractive economies in Northwest British Columbia. The interviews collected in the book expose the tensions within and between these groups but, more importantly, they highlight the political, strategic, and material threads that unite these actors into a powerful force advocating for the democratic control of resources and development.

The Answer is Still No is remarkable for its many expressions of solidarity, particularly among the diverse collection of Indigenous peoples acting against the pipelines and also across the broad cross-section of coalition interests described above. Some of this solidarity can be attributed to the missteps of pipeline proponents. It is clear that the voices here from the environmental advocacy sector are not the “foreign radicals” of federal finance minister Joe Oliver’s fevered imagination, but rather a thoughtful, committed, well-informed group of active and concerned citizens who were given a sense of mission, and motivated to act for a common anti-pipeline purpose, by Oliver’s strange characterization of those who disagree with his party’s position on development. Equally, the diverse Indigenous groups of British Columbia, especially those that face the material burdens and opportunities of industrial development, have been emboldened by the strategic ineptitude of Enbridge, especially its lack of consultation and engagement. Nikki Skuce of ForestEthics suggests that “opposition to Enbridge created a lot more solidarity, a lot more people working together, a lot more understanding” (82).

Most interviewees condemn the company for its failure to acquire “social licence,” defined by McPhail as “the blessing of the community” (100). The absence of social licence – which might also be called “corporate social responsibility” — reflects the company’s allergy to consultation with local communities and First Nations governance structures. Interviewees also exhibit sophisticated understandings of complex social, political, and ecological phenomena. Dene youth leader Jasmine Thomas brings an awareness of the cumulative impacts of multiple developments to her discussion of the lack of consent obtained by Enbridge, while the interviewers themselves often coax reflections on the inequities that manifest locally from interactions with colonialism and modern industrial capitalism, which are expressed variously in terms of neoliberalism and extractivism.

The material threads are equally as powerful. In particular, multiple voices mention the discursive power or water and salmon. For John Ridsdale, a Wet’suwet’un hereditary chief, water is a metaphor for the solidarity evident in the struggle against Enbridge. It is the element that ties everyone together. And for longtime environmental campaigner Pat Moss, salmon is everything, a keystone species at the heart of regional ecologies and economies.

For those with an interest in the future of Northwest British Columbia, and for others who share concerns about the trajectories of development elsewhere in the Canadian north and beyond, The Answer is Still No offers a compelling indictment of the state of contemporary resource politics while also providing a case for optimism that the most hubristic projects will remain unsuccessful development dreams.

The Answer is Still No: Voices of Pipeline Resistance
Paul Bowles and Henry Veltmeyer, editors
Black Point, NS and Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2014, 144 pp. $22.95 paper