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Hands across New Brunswick and Québec waterways in the campaign against tar sands bitumen

On June 3rd, in Amqui Québec, people of all ages stretched their canoes and kayaks across the waters of the Matapedia River to say no to the rail transport of tar sands bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Port of Belledune, New Brunswick.  

A group of us travelled from New Brunswick to the Gaspe Penisula show solidarity with our water protectors in Québec.  We represented Council of Canadians – Fredericton chapter, Red Head Anthony’s Cove Preservation Society, Council of Canadians – Saint John chapter, and EcoVie from Kedgwick, NB.

After crossing the interprovincial bridge at Campbellton, New Brunswick, driving through the valley of  the Restigouche River and Matapedia River on the way to Amqui, Québec is breathtaking.  You are also struck by how close the train tracks hug the shore of these rivers, and the significant number of train bridge crossings over the Matapedia River.  


This water event was organized by Coule pas chez nous, a Québec group that is leading a strong, well-organized and unified resistance against the rail, pipeline, and supertanker transport of extreme oil.  At significant risk are the communities and farms along the waterways, the salmon and other wildlife in the fresh water habitat, and the fisheries and magnificent creatures like the endangered right whale in the Bay of Chaleur. 

New Brunswick and Indigenous communities share the same concerns about the risks from the Energy East tar sands pipeline to the Wolastoq (Saint John River) and the Energy East tar sands supertankers to the Bay of Fundy, including the lobster fisheries and the endangered right whale.

Unlike conventional oil, when tar sands bitumen spills into water, the solvent chemicals quickly evaporate into a toxic cloud that is life-threatening – requiring immediate mass evacuation and hospitalization – and the bitumen remains in the water to form tar balls which sink and aggressively stick to the bottom. No technology exists that can capture and cleanup bitumen; cleanup is difficult, expensive, and it is impossible to fully restore the river or bay.

Speaking to the crowd before the boats were launched, Lynaya Astephen, spokesperson for Red Head Anthyony’s Cove Preservation Association, and Council of Canadians – Saint John chapter, explained, “Everyday on my way to town, I drive by the Irving oil refinery and their rail terminal, the very terminal that was supposed to get the Lac Megantic trains. I’ve heard the argument over and over again that pipelines are safer than rail.” “We know this is a false argument.  The reality is industry wants both.  Industry wants to use our land and coastlines to line their pockets.  We are not going to let them do it!”

With 40+ boats on the Matapedia, it was both fun and empowering to be part of this water event.

“It is so important to be here in solidarity with Québec”, said Maggie Connell, a member of Council of Canadians – Fredericton chapter. “When we stop thinking only about the issues at home, such as Energy East and the impacts to the Bay of Fundy, we start thinking about the problem as a whole.”

More information on their waterways campaign, #CoulePasDansNosCoursDeau, can be found on the Coule pas chez nous website and their campaign’s Facebook site.  

The extreme oil is not for use by Quebec

Back on land, there was a discussion on the Belledune oil-by-rail and other proposed tar sands bitumen projects, proposed shale gas fracking for the Gaspé Peninsula, the disrepair of train tracks along the Matapedia River, and the paradigm shift to efficiency, clean energy, and local diverse economies.

Coule pas chez nous made several strong arguments why these projects will not be allowed to pass – “Vous ne passerez pas!”.  While these waterways will be put at great risk of tar sands bitumen spills, all of these additional projects that are proposed to pass through Québec are not for Québec consumption. 

Adding up the tar sands-by-rail projects going to export terminals at Belledune, N.B. and Sorel-Tracy, Québec, as well as the tar sands pipeline Energy East going to the export terminal at Red Head (Saint John), N.B., these 3 projects total more than 5-6 times the petroleum which is needed by Quebec.

At the national level, they point out that Canada now produces 2X more oil than we consume.  The petroleum production in Alberta would double by 2020 and triple by 2035 if proposed projects are allowed to proceed.

The same is true for Energy East in New Brunswick. At least 80% of the 1.1 million barrels/day proposed for the Port at Red Head (Saint John) is already under commercial agreement for export. The math is simple.  Using numbers from TransCanada’s application to the National Energy Board, TransCanada has proposed using 70 Aframax, 175 Suezmax, and 36 Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) per year. The total capacity of this many oil tankers carrying tar sands bitumen and crude oil is 328 million barrels per year, which is over 81% of the total volume of the pipeline.

Hands Across The Water on June 10th and June 17th

This is part of three weekends of action. Next weekend on Saturday June 10th, the Fredericton chapter is organizing a march in their city against the Energy East pipeline. And on Saturday, June 17th, there will be a march and picnic in Red Head (Saint John) where a massive tank farm and deep water export terminal would be built to serve the Energy East project.

For more, please see:

Fredericton: Hands Across the Water Event

Red Head, Saint John: Hands Across the Water Event

Complacency about climate change is no longer an option

The weekend trip to the Matapedia canoe event was transformative for Fredericton teenager Rosie Burgess for becoming engaged about climate change, “Before I was scared of what was coming because I didn’t want to face the danger.  But now I am more exposed to it and I am realizing it’s not just up to the adults.  It’s up to the youth to speak out and try to fix it as well.  The voice of the youth will make a bigger impact. It’s our future too, and you can’t kill what we have to live on when you’re gone.”

And seeing so many young people taking part in this event is a positive sign for everyone.

Now is the time to “show up” and “speak up” for real action on climate change. The landmark election in British Columbia, and the Trump decision, may be the signal and the shock, respectively, that we need in our communities to get more people involved in making change. 

As reported by CBC News, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was “grandstanding” in her refusal to accept the alliance formed between the NDP and the Greens in British Columbia.  “Mark my words,” Phillip said in response. “The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will never see the light of day.”

The recent announcement by President Donald Trump that he will pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement.  But world leaders were quick to condemn this decision.  German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni released a joint statement pointing out that the President cannot renegotiate the agreement.  

As reported in The Atlantic, Princeton scientist Michael Oppenheimer says that with the Trump decision, keeping the average global temperatures from rising more than two degrees is now “totally unrealistic”. “This decision is just enough to push us over the edge, in my view.”

It’s time to show up and march for the future we want.  

(PHOTO CREDITS:  Rosie Burgess, Lynaya Astephen and Mark D’Arcy)