Two giant pandas arrived at the Toronto Zoo on Monday, a token of friendship from China. Their names are Da Mao and, I believe, Northern Gateway.
Or maybe the pandas were just kermode bears from the B.C. coast, dunked in pipeline oil for the same black-and-white effect.
No, no, no, though that’s the image left by a video released Sunday to coincide with the 24th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster.
The two-minute spot starts with a recording of the stricken tanker’s radio call to the coast guard — “we’ve fetched up, uh, hard aground... and, uh, evidently we’re leaking some oil” — before giving way to images of oil-soaked birds and otters, overlaid with Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound Of Silence. Paul Simon gave the Coastal First Nations, the video’s sponsor, permission to use the song.
“What if it happened in B.C.?” the video asks. It then answers its own question: 4,379 jobs lost and taxpayers stuck with a $21.4 billion cleanup bill.
It’s just the latest round in the public-relations war between those for and against proposals to ship Alberta oil to Asia from the B.C. coast.
On one side, the pro-pipeline ad campaigns launched by Enbridge and the federal government. On the other, the spots produced by Coastal First Nations — an alliance of First Nations on the north and central coast and Haida Gwaii — and, with the provincial election looming, the Dogwood Initiative environmental group. The opposition campaigns focus not on the pipeline itself, but the potential for a tanker spill in our waters.
Enbridge’s TV commercials for its Alberta-to-Kitimat pipeline have been ubiquitous: pastel animation, a dreamy soundtrack and a young woman’s voice promising “a path to prosperity.”
Also widely aired have been Ottawa’s commercials, part of the Economic Action Plan advertising campaign for which taxpayers spent $21 million last year. The ads tout the benefits of responsible resource development and offer assurances of such safety measures as double-hulled tankers. (Alas, the marine-safety message lost a bit of its oomph last week when an Esquimalt-based oil spill cleanup ship got stuck on a sandbar en route to a Vancouver news conference where federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was boasting of beefed-up response capability.)
Television viewers are less likely to see the Exxon Valdez video, which, for now, can only be seen on northern B.C. stations where air time is relatively cheap. “We’re seeking supporters to get it out on the Lower Mainland,” said Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations. “We don’t have the kind of resources that Enbridge has to run ads every day.” For now, his group is relying on social media.
Ditto for Dogwood, which employs black humour in a series of spots that centre on a pipeline running through a family’s home. “Unless an angel donor comes along with a desire to put them on air, we simply don’t have the funds,” says campaign director Eric Swanson.
Dogwood is modelling its election campaign strategy on that of Barack Obama, relying heavily on the online recruitment of volunteers to knock on doors and phone voters in all 85 B.C. constituencies. Dogwood staff will focus on 10 ridings, including a handful on Vancouver Island: Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Comox Valley, Parksville-Qualicum and, perhaps, Saanich North and the Islands and Juan de Fuca. Rather than endorse particular candidates or parties in the May 14 election, they’re trying to push tanker opposition onto everyone’s platform.
Where Dogwood uses satire in its spots, there’s nothing funny about the Coastal First Nations video. It uses numbers based on a study by Tom Gunton, a former B.C. deputy environment minister who estimated an Exxon Valdez-sized spill would leave B.C. taxpayers on the hook for $21.4 billion. That’s twice the amount predicted by a UBC study. Both estimates easily dwarf what Sterritt said is a shipping-industry cleanup fund that maxes out at just $1.3 billion — not that any amount would bring life back to the coast. “At the end of the day, the fact still remains: You can’t clean up oil.”
That’s the message he’s trying to get out, though the bears of the coastal wilderness are easily forgotten when the media are going gaga for pandas in Toronto.
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