Small-town B.C. chamber slams provincial business group over proposed pipeline

Keven Drews, The Canadian Press 0

VANCOUVER – As far as business groups go, the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce isn’t the biggest or most powerful organization in British Columbia, but its members are still taking a very vocal and public stand against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Their motive is simple: past experience.

In late December 1988, fuel from an 850,000 litre spill in Grays Harbour, Wash., made its way north to the west coast of Vancouver Island, fouling local beaches, killing thousands of seabirds and closing commercial shellfish operations.

“Our business community can’t afford any spills,” said Gord Johns, executive director of organization that represents about 300 businesses in the tourism mecca on Vancouver Island.

“Effectively, that would just wipe us out.”

Johns said the Tofino chamber decided to speak out against the pipeline after its provincial counterpart released the results of a pipeline poll earlier this month.

At the time, the provincial chamber reported 47 per cent of British Columbians supported the project, and the numbers jumped to 57 per cent if the project received a positive recommendation from a federal joint-review panel.

The joint-review panel endorsed the proposed pipeline Dec. 19, but with 209 conditions. The federal government now has about six months to make a decision.

A representative from the BC Chamber of Commerce was not immediately available for comment.

Johns said any spill on British Columbia ‘s North Coast, the proposed terminus of the Northern Gateway pipeline, would affect Tofino, too.

The Tofino chamber’s website shows members include whale and wildlife watching companies, sport fishing operators, as well as kayak, scuba and surfing shops.

“We’ve constantly had to voice our opinion, and make sure that the coastal communities are aware, and people in B.C. and Alberta, that the BC Chamber of Commerce does not represent all the chambers of commerce in the province of B.C., and it certainly isn’t the voice of the coast,” said Johns.

Johns said the Tofino chamber took a position against the pipeline in an August 2010 letter to the joint-review panel and reaffirmed its opposition in June 2012.

He said the Tofino chamber also spoke out against a pro-pipeline motion at the 2013 BC Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting.

Opposing large-scale industrial activities is nothing new to the community.

Tofino and the surrounding Clayoquot Sound were ground zero for protests against clearcut logging back in the late 1980s.

Johns said the business community has historically joined with the environmental lobby in standing up for local ecosystems.

“We certainly know that coastal communities in British Columbia will unite together to stand up to challenge any threat to the ecosystem and the food security and economies of the coast of British Columbia,” he said. “And we’ve seen that in the past. I would not underestimate that that will happen again.”

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