Fin in the News: Trans Mountain expansion could be 'major issue' in next election

By Laura Ryckewaert, The Hill Times, Mar. 12, 2018

Trans Mountain expansion could be 'major issue' in next election, says Riis, but most MPs in pipeline's path cite 'overwhelming' support

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project would see a twinning of its existing pipeline, which stretches from Edmonton to Vancouver, passing through 21 federal ridings.

by: Laura Ryckewaert

The government's approval of Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is expected to cost the party electorally in 2019, but most MPs in the pipeline's proposed path say the majority of their constituents support it.

"This could be one of the major issues in the next federal election, particularly in the Lower Mainland where people are concentrated and where the [anti-pipeline] activists are concentrated," said Nelson Riis, the former NDP MP for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, B.C. from 1997 to 2000.

He said he's anticipating there will be protests against the pipeline in the coming months on an unprecedented scale, given the project's terminus is in the heart of Vancouver and easily accessible to millions. He noted for example that the Dakota Access pipeline protests at Standing Rock in 2016, which was in the "middle of nowhere," nonetheless attracted many protesters from across North American.

"There will be flashpoints all along the pipeline corridor," he said.

With the federal Conservatives and Liberals backing the pipeline project, Mr. Riis said he sees growth opportunity for the NDP in the area.

"This could be a real bonus for the NDP in the lower mainland at least, and on the coast of British Columbia where the attitudes are so much stronger than in other parts of the province," he said.

The original Trans Mountain pipeline, stretching 1,146 kilometres from Edmonton to Vancouver, was completed in 1954. Kinder Morgan's expansion project would see this pipeline twinned, more than doubling its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000.

The project includes the construction of 987 kilometres of new pipeline and the reactivation of another 193 kilometres of existing pipeline, along with new pump stations, storage tanks, and an expansion of the Westridge Marine Terminal off Vancouver Harbour in Burnaby. It's estimated it will increase tanker traffic seven-fold, from five to 34 a month going through the harbour and the Burrard Inlet area. Construction on the marine terminal began on Sept. 29, 2017.

Under Kinder Morgan's proposed route, the new and existing pipelines would run parallel through many stretches, and notably diverge in others.

In some cases, the new pipeline would hive off to avoid areas the existing pipeline cuts through-for example, it avoids Coldwater River Provincial Park, which the old one runs through.

But on the flip side, the new pipeline would go through areas the old one avoids, including the Lac Du Bois Grasslands Protected Area, the heart of the Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area (the old one skirts the area's edge), and the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area (again, the existing one skirts the edge).

Based on the current proposed route, once twinned, the Trans Mountain pipeline would run through 21 federal ridings overall. Of these, Conservatives hold 12, the Liberals hold five, and the NDP represents four.

In Alberta, where the Liberals won four of the province's 34 seats in 2015, support for the pipeline is high, with oil and gas a major part of the province's economy. As a result, the main threat for the federal Liberal government in Alberta is not being seen as advocating strongly enough for the project. Conservative MPs who spoke with The Hill Times last week said they want the federal government to insert itself more in the ongoing spat between the British Columbia and Alberta NDP governments and stand up for the pipeline.

But doing so could hurt the Liberals' support among many B.C. voters and among First Nations communities opposed to the project and compound damage already done as a result of the Liberal government's decision to approve the Kinder Morgan project before following through on its 2015 campaign commitment to revamp the environmental assessment process. In B.C., the Liberals hold 18 of the province's 42 seats, while the New Democrats hold 14, the Conservatives nine, and the Green Party one.

The federal government approved the Trans Mountain expansion project in November 2016, contingent on 157 conditions set by the National Energy Board. On Feb. 8, the government tabled Bill C-68 and Bill C-69 to scrap the NEB and overhaul environmental assessment processes.

A Feb. 22 Angus Reid poll of 2,501 Canadians found respondents split 50-50 between agreeing with the B.C. or Alberta governments-that is, between delaying the project or not. The highest opposition to the pipeline was found in Quebec, where 64 per cent of respondents agreed with the B.C. government. In B.C., 58 per cent of respondents agreed with their government, and 42 per cent backed the Alberta government's stance. But in the Metro Vancouver area, 63 per cent of respondents backed the B.C. government's stance.

The federal Liberals and Conservatives are in support of the pipeline. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has laid low on the issue, but the party has argued the project should be put on hold until a new environmental assessment can be completed.

These dynamics in mind, it's the federal NDP that has the most potential to benefit electorally from opposition to the pipeline.

Of the 21 ridings the pipeline would pass through, the NDP candidate came second in three ridings in 2015: in Surrey Centre, B.C., where Liberal MP Randeep Sarai won by a vote margin of 15 per cent; Burnaby North-Seymour, B.C., where Liberal MP Terry Beech won by a vote margin of 6.5 per cent, and Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, B.C., where Conservative MP Cathy McLeod won by a margin of 5.5 per cent.

The Hill Times reached out last week to MPs whose ridings are in the pipeline's path to get their take on where their constituents stand on the Kinder Morgan expansion project.

Rookie Liberal MP Ken Hardie (Fleetwood-Port Kells, B.C.), who won the election with 46.9 per cent of the vote in the last election, said "generally speaking, the whole project has been a non-issue" in his riding, save for a group of "about a dozen" concerned residents in the Fraser Heights area. While the existing pipeline sticks close to Highway 1 through his riding, new segments are set to run closer to the Fraser River and along the Fraser Heights escarpment.

Mr. Hardie said he has strived to be "very proactive" in reaching out to constituents to get their views on the pipeline one way or the other, but by and large residents seem to be "neutral" and "are not paying really very close attention to it."

"I actually heard more people saying that they would support doing it because of the economic benefits, but even then, that's only been just recently perhaps in response to the actions by the B.C. government," he said, adding he only began hearing from Fraser Heights residents after Kinder Morgan started doing preparatory testing work nearby.

Mr. Hardie noted that he previously opposed the pipeline, due to concern for the potential impact on marine life should a tanker spill occur, but said he now understands the national interest in the project, and highlighted the government's announced $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan. He said there hasn't been a single tanker spill since the original pipeline was built. Mr. Hardie said he's not concerned his support for the pipeline could hurt him electorally in 2019.

But just across the Fraser River, NDP MP Fin Donnelly (Port Moody-Coquitlam, B.C.), who won his riding in the 2015 election with 36.05 per cent of the vote and is his party's fisheries and oceans critic, said his community is much more divided. He said support and opposition to the pipeline split roughly 50-50.

The new pipeline would cut a different route through his riding than the current one does and Mr. Donnelly said Coquitlam City Council has raised concerns that local residents would be "on the hook" for costs related to infrastructure that would be impacted.

Generally, his office indicated it's received more than 500 letters, calls, and emails from people concerned about the impact of the pipeline in the last year-including some from people outside his riding. He said while the government's Oceans Protection Plan "is a nice announcement," he's not yet convinced it amounts to the "world class oil spill response regime" prescribed as part of the NEB's conditions.

Asked about his neighbour Mr. Hardie's assessment, Mr. Donnelly said he was "surprised ... but that's [the MP's] prerogative." Mr. Donnelly said he's been in the riding, and elsewhere in Surrey, and has heard plenty of concerns.

Mr. Donnelly said he faced a tight race in 2015 and believes his opposition to the Trans Mountain project factored into his victory. His support went down by 4.41 per cent from the 2011 federal election. He said he understands some Liberal MPs in the area are "openly worried" that they will be penalized in the polls in 2019 as a result of the Liberal government's approval of the pipeline.

Mr. Beech, who won the 2015 federal election with 36.09 per cent of the vote and whose riding holds the pipeline's end point, was not available for interview last week, but his office flagged an 18-page report on the project posted on the MP's website. In it, he writes that within his riding the "spectrum of support for this project is much broader and more nuanced than a simple yes or no answer." The report notes that when his office sent out a householder survey, "the first 74 responses included 48 individuals who were opposed," 19 in support and seven undecided.

Based on those numbers, that's almost 65 per cent in opposition.

Ms. McLeod, who won the 2015 federal election with 35.5 per cent of the vote which represented a 17.04 per cent drop in support from the 2011 election, said while there "some opposition" to the pipeline in her riding, the majority of her riding is in support, and she's heard more people express concerns about the Canada summer jobs grant or small business taxes than about the project. She said she's been frustrated by characterizations in media portraying all B.C. residents as up in arms over the pipeline.

"I would say in general the communities [in her riding] have signed community benefit agreements, including the vast majority of the First Nations communities," she said. "There's not a lot of concerns that have been addressed specifically to my office."

Conservative MP Dan Albas (Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, B.C.), who won the 2015 federal election with 39.56 per cent of the vote which represented a 15.03 per cent drop from the 2011 federal election, estimated his constituents are roughly 80 per cent in support of the pipeline, and said within the municipalities in his riding closest to the pipeline route "there is a tremendous amount of support."

"That pipeline has existed for close to 60 years, and so people have grown up around it," he said.

Mr. Albas said "every once in a while" he hears from someone opposed to the pipeline-estimating he's gotten around 40 such calls, emails or letters-but stressed "most people feel supportive."

"I've done a number of town halls and people have always been warmly supportive," he said.

While the Lower Nicola Indian Band has voted to support the project; the Upper Nicola Indian Band in Mr. Albas' riding is opposing it, citing lack of consultation by the government.

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta.), who won the last election by 91 votes and with 41.24 per cent of the vote, told The Hill Times last week that "the vast majority of people in Alberta and in Edmonton" understand the need for the Kinder Morgan project, and said he hasn't heard "any concerns at all from any Edmontonians on the routing or ... any of the safety concerns."

"People in my city of Edmonton understand how critical it is for our resources to get to the international market," he said, adding that the expansion will also "create thousands of jobs for Albertans and Canadians."

He also highlighted the government's Ocean Protection Plan, and efforts undertaken to address climate change, like introducing carbon pricing.

"There's always some concerns, and we're dealing with those concerns," he said.

"Our government made this decisions to approve Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain because it is in the national interest. It is good for the country, it is good for our economy, it is good for jobs," said Mr. Sohi.

Rookie Conservative MP Dane Lloyd (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.), who was elected with 77.4 per cent support in an October 2017 byelection, said there's "widespread support" for the pipeline in his riding.

"People in my riding understand that infrastructure development, particularly energy infrastructure, is for the public good," he said.

Mr. Lloyd said all the candidates in the recent byelection race "were trying to step over each other to promote their support of the Trans Mountain project." Mr. Lloyd noted that the proposed pipeline route in his riding would actually cut through two quarter sections of his family's farmland-they farm wheat, potatoes, and canola.

"I've asked them how their interactions and relationship with the company has been, and they've said it's been very positive," he said.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), who won the 2015 election with 63.94 per cent of the vote, said his constituents are "overwhelmingly supportive of pipeline projects," and estimated support for the Kinder Morgan expansion to be around 90 per cent.

"We've had at some of the roundtables we do on energy development, we'll not infrequently have sort of one person come who takes a contrary perspective, so I don't want to suggest there's total unanimity, but certainly the proportions are pretty overwhelming," he said.

Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux (Edmonton Riverbend, Alta.), who won 49.89 per cent of the vote in the 2015 election, said there's a "tremendous amount of support" for the Trans Mountain expansion project in his riding. The proposed new pipeline would largely cut through a transportation utilities corridor in his riding, said Mr. Jeneroux, and he "can't even recall getting a single letter, email, [or] phone call to the office" from someone opposed to the project.

Conservative MP Jim Eglinski (Yellowhead, Alta.), who won his riding with 72.3 per cent of the vote in the 2015 federal election, said his constituents by and large support the project. He said he's only heard concerns from a small handful of residents who objected to specific parts of the originally proposed route.

"No objections to the pipeline itself per say," he said.

Conservative MP Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West, Alta.), who won the 2015 federal election with 49.3 per cent of the vote, said when it comes to pipeline opposition he's heard of "almost none" among his constituents.

"I've heard from two or three as opposed to hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds contacting the office saying, 'get this built," said Mr. McCauley.

Kinder Morgan continues to hold detailed route hearings, with secondary permits and approvals for the exact route still to go.

A number of court cases still stand in the project's way, including an appeal of a judicial review of the government's 2016 order in council decision approving the pipeline expansion project launched by nine applicants, including First Nations groups and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, citing inadequate consultations with First Nations by the Crown.

Also expected to stand in its way in a more literal sense in the coming months are protestors. Already a mass demonstration was planned for March 10 on Burnaby Mountain.

"Most Canadians don't understand how British Columbians, particularly in the lower mainland and the coast, feel about their environment. There's almost a religious sort of existential attachment," said Mr. Riis.