Don’t underestimate how British Columbians feel about their environment

Look, nobody wants to trivialize the importance of the wine industry in British Columbia.

Look, nobody wants to trivialize the importance of the wine industry in British Columbia.

It is a significant sector of the economy and one whose progression instills a degree of pride in British Columbians. There’s something appealing about a bottle of wine with the name of some – usually rural – B.C. community imprinted on the label with whimsical images suggestive of a mystical valley kissed by the sun and protected by ranges of mountains.

But to use B.C. wine as a weapon against the province’s resistance to shipping oil products up and down our coast or pumping it along our river valleys and waterways borders on ridiculous. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has proposed a ban on selling B.C. wines in Alberta liquor stores in retaliation to B.C. Premier John Horgan’s threat to ban additional shipments of diluted bitumen in coastal waters until the effect of a spill in those waters is studied.

So, Notley is attempting to escalate the dispute with a retaliatory measure designed to pressure B.C. To think that banning B.C. wine sales is likely to change public opinion in Canada’s most western province about the danger of shipping oil products is shortsighted and, in fact, trivializes something at the core of life in this province.

So let us think about this for a minute. Are we willing to give up the sale of a few bottles of wine in Alberta in order to protect one of the last remaining wildernesses on our planet?

Uh, yeah.

Notley is trying to force British Columbians to choose between whatever percentage of the market for B.C. wines Alberta is and thousands of miles of verdant, rain-forested shoreline and once-rich but still vital waters teaming with species that serve as both a food source for millions and as a host of biodiversity that we can ill-afford to lose. One only has to make the drive along B.C.’s mighty Skeena River from Prince Rupert to Terrace to be overwhelmed by the sheer and utter beauty that exists on our planet and then be terrified by how easily it could be lost with one break in a pipeline.

At the heart of this is a dawning realization in B.C. that we’re stewards of one of the last great ecosystems on the planet.

Alberta will get more sympathy by pointing out the economic impact on Albertan families from employment and wealth generation by the oil industry. Losing jobs puts families at risk. That is a story that British Columbians know well. A number of our important industries have been under attack from various opponents for years (read: forestry, aquaculture).

And, let’s be honest here, the oil industry has – and has had – a big impact on B.C. families as well. The downturn in the coastal forest industry over the last decade has been weathered by employment in the Alberta oil patch.

The economies of B.C. and Alberta are intertwined just as our societies are. It’s a complex relationship. This is not an economic dispute between two nations on opposite sides of the globe. These are neighbours in every sense of the word. We’re family. We’re intermarried, literally. And like all families, it works best when the members understand each other.

Undoubtedly, this is just a first step in the appearance of escalating the pressure on B.C. Start with wine and then move onto what? Forest products?

Other dismiss this issue as more about getting re-elected than anything. That’s such a vacuous analysis. Anything any government does is to get re-elected, it’s the engine that drives our political system. And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. If a government takes a certain action merely to get the votes from the majority of the electorate, then doesn’t that mean the government is doing what the people want? And isn’t that a good thing? What exactly is the point being made with that?

Alberta urges B.C. to consider the impact on Albertan workers. British Columbians can say the same thing. The rest of Canada is probably sick and tired of British Columbians going on and on about how beautiful it is here. But once you do live here you realize how beautiful it actually is and that realization is often accompanied by a sense of responsibility for protecting it. And that coastline is also an economic asset – tourism, fishing, logging, etc.

In the end, these two governments will come to some sort of arrangement, perhaps even with the federal government stepping in and doing something.

But whatever accommodation is arrived at, it will not be effective if it doesn’t reflect that notion that British Columbians, at least a significant percentage of them, believe that our coastal ecosystem is something we’re charged with protecting for the benefit of all.

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