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Pipeline protesters losing public support over city disruptions: expert

Last Updated Jan 21, 2020 at 1:32 pm PDT

FILE - Protesters block access to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal on Monday in "solidarity" with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are trying to stop a natural gas line in north-central B.C. (Courtesy Twitter/@_AnnaGerrard)

An expert says more stunts like halting BC Ferries at Swartz Bay is going to be costly for the movement

He argues protesters have already lost in court, and going ahead with a protest anyway won't garner public support

Instead, he suggests a demonstration shouldn't hold up city functions since there are other options to get attention

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Protesters using road and ferry blockades to make a point about a controversial northern pipeline are ultimately getting the wrong message across, according to a marketing expert.

SFU’s professor of Emeritus and Marketing Lindsay Meredith says more stunts like halting BC Ferries at Swartz Bay is going to be costly for the movement supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting the Coastal GasLink project on their land.

“Trying to claim that BC Ferries is an ideal target because it might use natural gas and natural gas is a word that was used up north. Sorry, that is a reach that the public will never ever buy,” he explains, adding this will turn people away, “I don’t know where they are getting their marketing strategic guidance from, but let me tell you I’d be firing the guy in about two seconds flat.”

RELATED: Pipeline protesters force delays at Swartz Bay ferry terminal

Meredith argues protesters have already lost in court. He says going ahead with a protest anyway won’t garner public support, especially in a situation where, despite the controversy over the Coastal GasLink project, proper approvals and consultation have taken place.

“This is one where the courts have ruled. This is one where interaction with Indigenous people was carried out. Due diligence was conducted,” he says. “I understand the hereditary chiefs. But the bottom line is, all of the groups basically had to have representatives at the table representing them, which were there and who basically signed off on the thing,” he says.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from B.C.’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast. The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along its path, but the hereditary clan chiefs, who are leaders under the traditional form of governance, say the project has no authority without their consent.

Meredith suggests a demonstration shouldn’t hold up city functions since there are other options to get attention, as Greenpeace has done in the past.

“You saw Greenpeace do things like scale buildings and hang banners from buildings. Behaviour of that sort certainly got all the coverage they possibly wanted, but you’ll notice they are careful not completely blocking the flows to ferries, to ports, to rail lines, or things of that sort that would actually cause economic hurt to others,” he says. “The more [protesters] pursue this strategy, the more they are going to paint themselves into a corner and they more they’re going to push things into a reactionary pushback from government.”

Protesters who also halted traffic on Hastings Street Monday say they will continue to take action – but not giving a heads up of where or when.

“It’s an integral supply system, an integral transportation system, shutting that thing down especially after the closures we’ve recently had is going to do one thing: it’s going to completely alienate the population and put them against that particular group,” Meredith says.

On Monday, BC Ferries’ Deborah Marshall said it agreed with the protester’s right to speak out against decisions they don’t agree with, but she expressed concern over the customer’s access to the ferry.

With files from Ash Kelly and Alison Bailey