I was wrong. This will come as no surprise to my wife, of course, but it turns out one of the political plagues of modern urban society may be useful after all.
Some truths remain constant - the NDP should not have access to the public purse; the Liberals (or whatever the centre right is calling itself in a given election) are not the savvy business people they think they are; and there are only two rules that guide every decision made by a politician: get elected and stay elected - but current events have forced me to reassess the value of protest as a means of influencing public and political will.
For the most part, the golden era of meaningful protest ended with the passing of mood rings, bell bottomed jeans and love beads. Women have the right to vote, segregation in the southern U.S. is over and the Vietnam War ended more than 35 years ago.
The velvet revolution in Europe during the late 1980s and the ongoing Arab Spring movement prove that protest can still topple governments and shake the foundations of a society, but in North America, issues that will mobilize large numbers of people into the streets are increasingly elusive.
There is still a segment of the population addicted to waving placards and chanting slogans but they are largely marginalized. When the television newscasts show their illegible signs rife with spelling errors as they yell out bad rhyming phrases, the rest of the population sees the protest more as a sad indictment of our education system than as a meaningful message worth considering.
And the fact that most of these protests are scheduled for midweek afternoons when responsible people are preoccupied with such diversions as earning a living sheds even more light on how out of touch these people are.
But just when you're ready to write off public protest as the sovereign domain of the lunatic fringe, along comes an issue that should make rational citizens sit up and take notice. Today, we have just such a cause worthy of our attention in the Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
The grand scheme at play is building a 1,100kilometre long pipeline that would move Alberta oil across the northern wilderness of B.C. to Kitimat, where the black gold will be transferred onto supertankers and shipped to Asia.
The flurries of red flags associated with this plan are in the same league as the old May Day parades in Moscow's Red Square.
I'm old enough to remember the Exxon Valdez and what can happen when humans attempt to use supertankers to slalom through the narrow channels of North America's northern Pacific Coastline.
Now picture that same devastation when the pipeline bursts, unleashing hundreds or thousands of gallons of toxic goop on a remote patch of land or in one of the many watersheds the proposed pipeline will cross.
Hundreds of miles from a human population centre and with no oil-soaked seal pups or otters to attract volunteers or media attention, how will the cleanup be handled?
The company planning to build this pipeline, Enbridge, does not have a great track record when it comes to oil spills, but that is being overlooked thanks to a spiffy public relations campaign that includes title sponsorship of a major cancer fundraiser.
See, we're good guys, just don't look at what our other hand is doing.
Throw in a major earthquake last week in the same area where the pipeline would end and disaster planning for an eventual spill becomes a matter of when, not if.
The project actually involves two pipelines, one carrying bitumen from Alberta to the coast and a second pipe moving condensate from B.C. back over the Rockies to Wild Rose country. This is the part of the plan that raised my eyebrows.
When I was in university, I spent the summers working in an oil refinery in the Peace River region of B.C. One of the things trucked out of the plant was condensate, an impure natural gas concoction that often includes a wonderful little side gift known as hydrogen sulfide or H2S.
The guys who loaded the trucks with "sour gas condensate" required full chemical suits with air lines to ensure they would survive to see the next coffee break.
The effects of H2S are devastating. If the stuff doesn't kill you outright, it will mess you up for the rest of your life. I still recall a fellow in Fort St. John who had been "gassed" on the oil rigs.
He was once a normal, hard-working guy but after the accident, he spent his days standing on the side of the road waving at cars as they drove by.
What happens if the pipe breaks in a populated area and the condensate being shipped is sour? I don't wish that fate on anybody.
Sadly, the politicians have overlooked the real dangers of this project and focused instead on who gets the most money from the deal: Alberta, B.C. or Ottawa.
The problems associated with this project are much bigger than who gets what share of the pie.
At its essence, it is about how much longer we can print "Beautiful British Columbia" on our licence plates.
Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com
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