Tales from the Hearing

Written by Brian Revel on January 18th, 2013

Enbridge-ConversationIt has been a couple of day since I made my presentation before the Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings and I thought I’d share my impressions of what happened to you.

I figure I probably should since there was almost no way for you, the public, to know.

As a presenter scheduled to speak on Tuesday afternoon starting at 1:30, I reported to the 4th floor of the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel by about 1:10. When I got there, one of the hearings officials was already in the middle of her presentation to tell us what to expect when we went into the hearings room.

I listened to the presentation and then signed in.

The first group of three speakers was called and they were shuffled off to another room on the 4th floor and we sat in our holding room and watched them enter and sit down in front of the panel. The camera angle looked over the shoulders of the representatives of the ‘applicant’, with the panel sitting to the left and the presenters sitting to the right facing them.

The Chair of the panel would welcome the three speakers and then ask the first to speak. When the speaker was finished, there was no comment, nothing more than a cursory “Thank you” and then the next speaker was invited to begin.

Once the third speaker had concluded, they were shuffled out of the room (not to return to our holding room) and the next three who had been called during the presentation of the last speaker of the previous group, were shuffled in and the whole play began anew.

I sat there, watching the big-screen TV displaying the goings-on in the hearing room and was deeply moved by what some of the other speakers had to say.

One was an engineer who spoke passionately about the engineering, the science and the chemistry behind this stuff benignly called “bitumen”. “Once the condensate evaporates after the accident, it’s basically asphalt without the sand”, he said. In his younger years, he remembered working for a firm that used bitumen in this form to patch roads.

Another was a photographer who chose to speak about two different types of albatrosses. It turns out that she encountered them on the Midway Atoll, but reminded us that they matter because while they nest half-way to Japan, they forage for food in the Douglas Channel.

Another was a lawyer who, if I recall, in a previous life, was a chemical engineer. She talked about how there is so much missing in the hearings, in the science, in the planning- and she was utterly astounded by how third-world-ish our environmental hearings are compared to what she encountered in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere in the supposedly less civilized world than ours.

And then there were those who spoke of close personal ties to the region. They spoke of swimming and drinking the beautiful, sweet waters of the Kitimat River. They recalled seeing humpback whales at the very docks that the tankers would be docking. Others contrasted the wonders of nature with the hazards of avalanches, of potential leaks under 30 feet of snow, of emergencies where helicopters can’t fly in because of the bad weather.

Others spoke of the hazards of navigating not only the Douglas Channel (one quipped that they were impressed by the hubris of Enbridge and its plan to remove all the islands of Douglas Channel- he just wondered where it was going to get the money to do all that work!) but the challenges of the Hecate Strait and the Dixon Entrance- both classified as some of the most dangerous navigable ocean waters in the world.

Meanwhile, I watched what the Enbridge representatives were doing. Sometimes there were two people at the table. Sometimes only one. Sometimes it was a woman, sometimes not. They clearly weren’t really interested in what was being said; they were there because the “applicant” had to be present. That’s all.

During these passionate speeches (all excellently presented, by the way), I watched Enbridge representatives type emails on their Blackberries, fiddle with their iPads and on occasion, check their watches. They looked like teenagers in detention- or else well on their way to being on detention, sitting at the back of the room like caged animals yearning to be doing better things than listen to these endless speeches.

It truly must have been terribly tedious for them. All they want is a goddamned pipeline. All they want is to provide the conduit for billions of barrels of ‘bitumen’ and ‘condensate (read billions of dollars into their shareholder’s pockets and their little take for their childrens’ retirements). To be forced to listen to all these people drone on about the environment, about the disasters which have been designed out of the proposal, about personal ties to the land, about oil tankers and their shortcomings when they really did have better things to do like, say, golf in Palm Springs. Poor things.

It is ironic that while I was sitting in the holding pen on the 4th floor of the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel, I found in Tuesday’s issue of the Vancouver Sun on page A8 an advertisement from Enbridge’s¬†Executive Vice President, Janet Holder, expounding on the economic benefits (spun so tightly it was self-evident in the ad that the benefits were dubious) and inviting a conversation after we ‘dug deeper‘ to see just how great this project is.

At 5:20 it was finally my turn along with two others and just as all the others were, we where staged just outside the hearings room, two VPD officers and a couple of security-types milling about the front door. When the previous three speakers were done, the door was opened and they filed out. We shuffled into our allocated seats and, just as with the others, briefly welcomed, and then instructed to begin.

So I launched into my speech, (see my previous blog entry below for the text) and ensured that no Enbridge representative was going to fiddle with his Blackberry or iPad while I spoke.

I’ll give the panel members credit: they actually listened. They actually took notes. Brief ones but hey- it was a C+ / B- performance. The truants at the back of the class? They may not have taken any notes but at least when it was time to nail them with the Truth, they were like deer in the headlights.

I was allocated 10 minutes. Because of two very small insertions into my speech, including a reference to the image of the air quality in Beijing in the very same issue of the Vancouver Sun as the ad, I ran overtime. I still had three sentences to go when I was cut off and ‘asked’ to give them one more sentence.

So I did. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children,” is what I closed with. And with that, the panel was on to the next speaker.

Twenty minutes later we were lead out of the room and after collecting our coats we took to the elevator and headed back out onto Burrard Street and on with our lives.

But I’m happy to smirk that I have one small footnote: I went up to the panelists and shook their hands. And then, like the smiling opponent I know I am, I went up to the Enbridge representatives and held out my hand. The first took my hand and shook it knowing that it was part of the show.

But the other one I know I got under his skin. Sitting there, he looked up at me standing with my hand extended. He looked at me in the eye and then looked at my hand. I could see disgust flash across his face- he really didn’t want to shake my hand- and then reluctantly, very reluctantly, he shook my hand extended in front of his face for over five seconds- but there was no eye contact.

I got you right between the eyes, Mr Enbridge Representative. You may get your pipeline, but I got your conscience.

After digging deeper, just as your Executive Vice-President invited me to do, I did my part. I said my piece and you didn’t like it one bit. Welcome to the conversation. ¬†Enjoy it now, because for you, it’s only going to get worse.


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