Image credit: Carmen Weld

Political commentator weighs in on pipelines and pinots

Chantal Hébert has seen her fair share of political tumult.

Chantal Hébert has seen her fair share of political tumult.

But it’s the memory of the highly politicized 2012 tuition debate in Montreal and what it stirred in Quebecers that came to mind Wednesday when she was asked for her take on the escalating political battle over the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Hébert, a political columnist with the Toronto Star and a weekly participant on CBC’s The National was in Kelowna for UBC Okanagan’s distinguished speaker series to discuss “fake news” when she made the comparison.

“For my first 90 nights I was at ground zero of the nightly demonstrations of the students,” she said. “You would think nothing is more banal than a tuition fee discussion, you all know how it plays out…too much money, not enough accessibility.”


But at the end of three months it had become a social movement and if Premier Jean Charest had not called an election at the end of that summer, she said she’s not sure if there would have been a return to normal.

“For all the preaching about the rule of law we could have columnized or talked about, once people have decided the rule of law is not their concern you can not resolve a conflict by preaching it,” she said.

For now, however, the debate is still a political war of words and not overly worrisome. What’s worse is the over-simplification of a means to resolve the issue.

When B.C. announced its attempt to stop pipeline construction with what amounts to an environmental review, Alberta’s premier responded by saying the act was “unconstitutional” and the federal government should step in and enforce its jurisdiction. It’s a call that’s been echoed many times since, and Hébert said it falls short.

“You can’t use the constitution to stop a province from thinking about something,” she said. “If you could, you could have stopped Quebec from having conversations about secession.”

Hébert said she worries about politicians walking toward something that will take on momentum that they can’t reign back in.

“I’m not sure I disagree with the Prime Minister’s low-keying of the issue,” she said. “It’s better than making believe some decisive gesture will resolve this issue once and for all.”

Many British Columbians, she said, are worried about tanker traffic and that’s not the kind of issue that can be put to rest with simple mandates.

On the other hand, she can understand where Albertans are at with the desire to fuel the economy.

“Sometimes two people can be right and want something that is completely different,” she said.

“If I was a politician on either side of this issue I would try to lower the temperature because at some point they will all lose control and when that happens I’m not sure where you go from there.”

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