Sackville activists received a morale boost last week when Maude Barlow, a leading figure in the environmental movement, stopped in Sackville for a dinner at Joey’s.
Barlow has served as the Senior Advisor on Water to Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the sixty-third President of the United Nations General Assembly. Now the chairperson of the Council of Canadians, Barlow is touring the Eastern Canada to raise awareness of the dangers of the Energy East pipeline.
If built, the pipeline, made by TransCanada would transport 1.1 million barrels of bitumen per day from the tar sands of Alberta to the refinery in Saint John, N.B. While one major concern of activists was the further development of the Alberta tar sands, they also discussed the risk of an oil spill.
With the highest tides in the world, the Bay of Fundy is highly susceptible to oil spills. Walters said they could carry an oil slick up the tide and into Sackville in a matter of days, and that the region’s soil would make clean-up almost impossible.
“This is potentially the worst kind of place to have an oil disaster,” he said.
Cherri Foytlin, a Louisianian environmental activist in Barlow’s entourage, spoke at the dinner about her experiences with the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill. An ex-journalist, Foytlin has been arrested four times and received death threats for her activism.
“There is so much oppression because the oil companies own that state. They own the newspapers, so my writing career is dead. I can’t get a job anywhere,” she said.
Proponents of the pipeline, including Stephen Harper and Irving Oil, say it will create jobs and help boost the province’s struggling economy. But the people in the room disagreed, saying that long-term job creation would be minimal and that most of the oil would be exported to the U.S. and Europe.
With the potential of damage to New Brunswick’s environment and economy in the advent of a spill, Barlow said that citizens must make a choice about the future of the province.
“So the question for Atlantic Canada is going to be,” Barlow said, “Are you going to accept this risk to tourism, to your health, to the fisheries, to the beauty of this area, to everything we hold dear … or are we going to transition to something?”
About 25 people, including professors, students, and community members came to see Barlow and her entourage of activists.
“Tonight, I’m reminded of the Rolling Stones,” said Walters, an environmental studies professor at the beginning of the meal. “Every time they do a massive tour, they always surprise some small town. This is like that.”
“It’s nice to see a wide spectrum of ages,” said Lauren Latour, an environmental studies student at Mount Allison. “We don’t feel like the lonely young people that are there fighting the fight, and they don’t feel abandoned too.”
Two days later in the academic quad, Latour and Emma Jackson were handing out red squares next to a mock pipeline, leading a protest for Mount Allison’s divestment from fossil fuels.
“I think if anything it was really energizing,” Jackson said. “When you’re involved with environmental campaigns and social justice campaigns, meeting with people like Maude Barlow is really inspiring because she just keeps going. She’s unstoppable.”
Also at the meal was Megan Mitton, a Sackville citizen who recently ran MLA of the Green Party, and garnered substantial support among Mt. A students.
“It was a warning for us that something like that can and probably will happen if we allow Energy East Pipeline to be built here,” Mitton said.
Many of the activists at the meal vocally opposed the Canadian government’s environmental undertakings, or lack thereof.
“We need different leadership,” Mitton said. “We need politicians and we need government that works for the people and not for the oil companies, not for big business.”
With more communities in Atlantic Canada opposing the East Energy Pipeline, Barlow said she was optimistic about their chances of stopping it.
“I’ve lost campaigns in my life, and I’ve won campaigns in my life,” Barlow said. “I know what it feels like to be at the beginning of a winning campaign, and this one is a winner.”