Outside a conference room in Ottawa’s stylish Four Seasons Hotel, pinstriped executives from Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd.(CAGPL) are deep in conversation. Their faces are glum, reflecting shock over the scathing indictment of their Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline proposal in a report released earlier in the day by Mr. Justice Thomas Berger. But their mood is distinctly defiant. One member of the group, waving a copy of the report, denounces Berger as a man who had his mind made up before he started his inquiry three years ago. “It’s an ideological report,” declares the CAGPL man, who clearly believes the battle is not yet lost. “Now we have to get to the four senior ministers in cabinet,” he says, without naming his targets.
Indeed, the Berger report is not the end but the beginning of a furious struggle that will take place in Canada over the next three months as the country crashes toward a decision on a northern gas pipeline after nearly nine years of debate, starting with the first discoveries of oil and gas in abundance at Prudhoe Bay on the northern Alaska coast in 1968. The debate is scheduled to end September 1, the deadline set by the United States for deciding on a pipeline route to bring the gas south. Will it be through Canada or, as with oil, across Alaska and into tankers for the rest of the journey? The decision by the Canadian government will, in a fundamental way, shape not only Canada’s energy policy but also its economic direction over the next decade.
It is not just a fight pitting the survival of the caribou in the northern Yukon against the comfort of the 2.5 million Canadian homes heated by natural gas; it is, as well, a clash between the consumerist, industrial society and the no-growth, environmentalist movement. For the northern natives, the debate and the Berger report are watersheds in their battle to preserve something of what they once were before the white man came (see box).
While Berger does not have the last word, he has helped sharpen the focus of the debate with his blitzkrieg-like attack on CAGPL, the consortium of 16 Canadian and foreign owned companies proposing to build a $ 10-billion, 2,625-mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay and the Mackenzie Delta, down the Mackenzie Valley to the United States and southern Canada. In his 213-page report, written in the first person, Berger makes a Farley Mowat-like plea for
understanding of the northern natives and recommends a 10-year postponement of any pipeline construction in the Mackenzie Valley. He also rules out the CAGPL project absolutely and, sticking the knife in even further, delivers a positive appraisal of the Alcan pipeline proposal, CAGPL’S arch rival.
It was a stunning setback for CAGPL, once considered a sure thing. As recently as 1974, Jean Chrétien, then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, stated: “This government, after weighing all the factors involved very carefully, has come to the conclusion that a gas pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley is in the national interest.” Now, after Berger, it may never happen.
No one should have been surprised by Berger’s report. Born in Victoria during the Great Depression, son of an RCMP sergeant, 44-year-old Berger is an intense humanist and socialist who has always sided with the underdog. As a young lawyer, he regularly fought the establishment on behalf of silicosis victims, polluted towns, and the Indians in BC. He became a New Democrat and was briefly an MP before being defeated by Ron Basford, now federal justice minister, in 1963. For an even briefer time, in 1969, he was leader of the BC New Democrats. But he was clobbered by W. A. C. Bennett’s Social Credit Party later that year. Then, in 1971, he accepted an appointment by former justice minister John Turner to the BC Supreme Court. There he sat in relative obscurity until 1974 when the federal government, in a minority position and with the NDP holding the balance of power, appointed him to head the inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. He viewed the assignment as the greatest challenge in his life and he responded to it with a fervor that lifted him to the status of the new folk hero of the country’s left.
Berger rejects the idea that he went North with preconceptions, but there is no doubt his sympathies were with the natives and not with pipeline companies. His report accepts at face value most of the natives’ prophecies about the social and environmental ruin a pipeline would bring, but questions virtually every counterclaim by the companies. In the process, he alters the vision of the North from that of a frontier to be exploited to that of a native homeland to be protected.
Not surprisingly, the native leaders cheered the report. “It’s a real victory for the Dene [Indian people],” George Erasmus, president of the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories. The NDP and environmentalists joined in the celebrations. Equally jubilant was Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., the company proposing the rival Alcan (Alaska-Canada) route around the Mackenzie Valley.
The report also caused some second thoughts among CAGPL’S supporters. The Ontario government, an early CAGPL backer, jumped off the bandwagon. In-
deed, Ontario energy minister James Taylor, caught up in an election campaign in the province, told a press conference that the provincial government had never backed CAGPL, although it clearly had before Berger. Similarly, in Ottawa, Conservative leader Joe Clark, who had been considered at least sympathetic to CAGPL, seemed to endorse Berger at a press conference on the day the report was released.
But later in the week, he performed an about-face and voted with the Liberals against an NDP motion backing Berger’s 10-year moratorium on pipeline construction. Some members of Clark’s caucus, it seems, are still pro-CAGPL.
Although government spokesmen praised the report in public through gritted teeth (“an eloquent statement,” Energy Minister Alastair Gillespie called it), in
private they were highly critical. They said Berger had exceeded his mandate—he was supposed only to recommend “terms and conditions” for building a pipeline—and, in so doing, had narrowed the government’s options. One senior energy department official called the report “criminal” and said Berger should be impeached. In the North, feelings were even stronger among the whites and natives who favor a pipeline. They felt they had been ignored by Berger and complained loudly. David Searle, a prominent Yellowknife lawyer and Speaker of the Council of the Northwest Territories, called Berger “a fucking freak” and said his report was the result of “a socialist conspiracy.” The council considered holding a plebiscite in the Mackenzie Valley district to prove that a majority of northerners, whites and natives, want a pipeline.
But if the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is to be revived, the initiative will have to come from CAGPL, the powerful consortium that has put more than five years and $140 million into planning the project. Its key officers, men like William Wilder, the prominent Bay Street financier and CAGPL chairman, will be lobbying cabinet ministers and other political leaders in the coming months. There may also be an advertising campaign aimed at convincing the Canadian public that CAGPL is in their best interest. Imperial Oil, a leading member of the consortium, placed ads backing CAGPL in Maclean's, Saturday Night and Time in May and might repeat them.
The other side will be active, too. Foothills plans to talk to every single MP, with its colorful president, Bob Blair, leading the way. The native and environmentalist groups, with support from the churches, plan a massive letter-writing campaign aimed at MPS. Berger himself might join the fray if government spokesmen start attacking him and the credibility of his report. But that is highly unlikely and his present plans are to spend the summer relaxing at home in Vancouver before returning to the bench in the fall. He noted at a press conference that judges do not retire until age 75 and added: “I have 31 years to serve on the bench; I expect to put them in.” Of his report, he said: “It may be that the government of Canada will decide that, in the national interest, the Arctic Gas (CAGPL) pipeline should be built. That’s parliament’s prerogative and the government’s prerogative. I’m just an adviser. I just make recommendations. But I want them to understand the price they’ll pay.” The decision will be made by a newly formed cabinet committee, chaired by government House Leader Allan MacEachen. It includes Gillespie, Macdonald, Chrétien, Allmand, Environment Minister Roméo LeBlanc, External Affairs Minister Don Jamieson, and Jack Horner, minister without portfolio. In the final days of its deliberations, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau himself may take the chair.
Reporting to the cabinet committee is
still another committee made up of civil servants and chaired by Basil Robinson, former deputy minister of external affairs and now commissioner of northern pipelines. His group includes the deputy ministers of finance, energy, environment, and Indian affairs. Chrétien and Horner are both considered pro-CAGPL (Horner has already publicly declared that he is “not in any way in agreement with Berger”). But Allmand and LeBlanc are expected to come down against the Mackenzie Valley route. The keys could be Gillespie and Macdonald. Both were once considered pro-CAGPL, but are now keeping their thoughts very much to themselves. Trudeau is also an unknown quantity.
But it is probably safe to say that the Alcan proposal, which would bring the Prudhoe Bay gas through Alaska and the southern Yukon along the Alaska Highway and then to points south, now is the favorite. It offers a neat compromise for the cabinet: a pipeline that avoids the ecologically fragile Mackenzie Delta and the north coast of the Yukon. Four days after the Berger report was released, Gillespie flew up to the Yukon to look over the route and was favorably impressed.
But the Alcan pipeline has its own problems, not the least of which is that it will not bring out any of the Canadian gas in the Mackenzie Delta. Bob Blair of Foothills argues that Canadians do not need that gas right away and, when there is a need, a separate pipeline could be built down the Mackenzie Valley or the Dempster Highway in the Yukon to connect with the Alcan pipeline, CAGPL used to argue that Canada needed the gas and the sooner the better. But there now are reserves of 59 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in western Canada, enough to supply Canadian needs for the next 25 years. In the Mackenzie Delta, fewer than five trillion cubic feet of gas have been proven.
However, the CAGPL proposal is far
from dead. It still has ardent backers in the government, particularly in the energy department, and it is counting on two more reports, due this summer, to overshadow Berger. One is the report of the National Energy Board, which is charged with determining whether a pipeline is in the public interest. Its staff is thought to be proCAGPL and its report, expected July 1, could reflect this. The other is the report of an inquiry into the Alcan pipeline, set up in April. A mini Berger inquiry under the guidance of Ken Lysyk, dean of law at the University of British Columbia and a former adviser to native groups, the Alcan probe could be just as critical of the Foothills project as Berger was of CAGPL. But, whereas Berger had three years to complete his report, Lysyk will have just three months; his deadline is August 1.
Why the rush? Trudeau promised U.S. President Jimmy Carter a decision by September 1 during his February visit to Washington because, unlike Canada, the United States needs the gas now and Carter must make his selection of a route this year. In the midwestern United States last winter, factories and schools had to be shut down because of a gas shortage. Remarked Berger: “The risk is in Canada; the urgency is in the United States.” But Trudeau denies that he has given in to U.S. pressure in promising a quick decision. He notes that, while the United States would prefer a pipeline built through Canada because it is cheaper, it is perfectly willing to build a pipeline across Alaska and then liquify the gas for shipment by tanker if it has to. Says Trudeau: “If we don’t make up our minds, the Americans will go ahead and we will not have a pipeline. We should not let others make decisions for us and that’s why I am putting on very great pressure to reach a decision.” Indeed, there is a well-entrenched belief in official Washington that Trudeau and Carter have already agreed on a Canadian route.
So, it appears Canada is going to get a pipeline. The question is: which one? The betting now is on Alcan. IAN URQUHART
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