Enemies at the Gateway: Regional Populist Discourse and the Fight Against Oil Pipelines on Canada's West Coast

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Neubauer R and Gunster S (2019) Enemies at the Gateway: Regional Populist Discourse and the Fight Against Oil Pipelines on Canada's West Coast. Front. Commun. 4:61. DOI: 10.3389/fcomm.2019.00061.

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Discourse coalitions
Climate change

This paper analyzes discursive storylines of opponents of Northern Gateway—a proposed pipeline and tanker project designed to link Alberta oil sands producers to international markets via Canada's West Coast. It explores how regional concerns about Northern Gateway helped galvanize a movement led by regional First Nations, environmentalists, and settler communities, all of whom opposed Gateway as a means to protect regional ecosystems—and the local communities dependent on them—from “extra-regional” Gateway-backing elites. By articulating arguments against Northern Gateway with salient collective action frames concerning ecological sustainability, regional identity, Indigenous sovereignty, social justice, and democratic agency, this anti-Gateway “discourse coalition” helped contribute to the project's ultimate collapse in 2016. In this paper, we critically engage with Ernesto Laclau's theorization of Populism to analyse this movement as a form of “regional ecological populism,” explaining how a shift in spatial framing from the national to the regional enabled a particular populist narrative to emerge. Furthermore, we relate Laclau's framework to Martin Hajer's concept of discursive “storylines” and William Gamson's analysis of “collective action frames” to provide a grounded analysis of how coalitions articulate populist storylines designed to mobilize diverse movement constituents. To do so we conduct a frame analysis of communications materials produced by several prominent First Nations and environmental organizations publicly mobilizing against Northern Gateway, tracing how these groups articulated a common regional ecological populist storyline. Finally, we end with some thoughts about the possibilities and challenges for scaling up regional ecological populism in Canada.

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