The federal Liberal government will pay a political price over its support for the $7.4-billion Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion among First Nations and B.C. voters in the next election, say pollsters, but how high a cost remains to be seen.
“There will be a political price to pay, and I think there’s an understanding about that. However, we’re well more than a year out from the next election and that is an eternity in terms of politics, and so we will have to see really where and how this conflict continues to simmer,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, in a phone interview from B.C.
“Does it die down? Does it get amplified? To what extent does the federal government and Justin Trudeau get pulled back into it?”
Another “ ‘x’ factor” is the question of which other federal party would capitalize on any lost Liberal votes, said Ms. Kurl.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has declared the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to be in the national interest.
Federally, the Conservatives are also backing the project, while the NDP is toeing a trickier line. Many NDP MPs are vocal opponents of the pipeline, like Burnaby South, B.C.’s Kennedy Stewart, and the caucus as a block has voted against motions in the House in support of the pipeline. But NDP leader Jagmeet Singh hasn’t come out definitively one way or the other, instead saying the pipeline expansion shouldn’t go ahead until an updated environmental assessment is completed.
Ms. Kurl said the new NDP leader is essentially in a “straight jacket on this issue.”
The Alberta NDP government led by Premier Rachel Notley is a strong proponent of the pipeline expansion. But the B.C. NDP government led by Premier John Horgan has vowed to use “every tool available” to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The National Energy Board (NEB) approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in 2016, contingent on 157 conditions.
The project involves the “twinning” of an existing pipeline that connects Kinder Morgan’s Edmonton terminal, located just west of the city in Sherwood Park, to a marine terminal in the Port of Vancouver in Burnaby, B.C.—passing through a number of provincial parks, conservation areas, and First Nations communities in the process.
It would more than double the pipeline’s capacity, from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000, and would involve roughly 980 kilometers of new pipeline being built and the reactivation of another 193 kilometers of existing pipeline; 12 new pump stations; 20 new tanks added to existing storage terminals in Burnaby, Sumas, and Edmonton; and would add three new berths (where ships can dock) to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby. It’s been projected to increase tanker traffic seven-fold, from five to 34 a month in the Vancouver Harbour area.
While there’s an assumption among Canadians east of Alberta that British Columbians “are writ large overwhelmingly opposed to the twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline,” the reality on the ground is more divided, said Ms. Kurl.
An Angus Reid poll of 2,501 Canadians, published Feb. 22, found respondents were split 50-50 between agreeing with the B.C. or Alberta governments—that is, between delaying the pipeline or not.
But Quebec, rather than B.C., was the province with the highest opposition to it, with 64 per cent of respondents in favour of the B.C. government’s stance. By comparison, in B.C., 58 per cent of respondents sided with their government, while 42 per cent supported the Alberta government’s position. Among respondents who voted Liberal in 2015, 46 per cent said the B.C. government’s position was the right one, while 54 per cent said it was the wrong one.
Moreover, a survey of 938 British Columbians conducted by Insights West Feb. 7 to 9 and sponsored by pipeline opponent Mr. Stewart, found that 48 per cent of respondents supported the project (a three percentage point increase from a November 2017 survey by Insights West), while 44 per cent opposed it, and nine per cent were undecided.
Polling shows a “significant number” of B.C. residents support the pipeline, said Ms. Kurl, but the most “strident opposition” to it exists within the Metro Vancouver area, which was an important growth area for the Liberals in 2015. The Angus Reid poll found that 63 per cent of respondents in Metro Vancouver supported the B.C. government’s argument. There are some seats the Liberals will “be in a tough fight to get back” next election, said Ms. Kurl.
Previously, the Liberals held just two of B.C.’s then-37 federal seats, both in Vancouver. Of the 42 federal ridings in play in B.C. in 2015, the Liberals won 17—of those 14 were in the Vancouver area—and have since scooped up an 18th riding in the province, after Liberal MP Gordie Hogg was elected to represent the formerly-Conservative seat of South Surrey-White Rock, B.C. in a Dec. 11 byelection.
Ms. Kurl said this recent byelection test was clouded by the fact the Liberals’ candidate was a well-known and long-time local representative.
But Innovative Research’s Greg Lyle, also based in B.C., said this byelection—which came after the Kinder Morgan project’s approval—is an indication that, at the moment at least, the Liberals haven’t “particularly paid a price” for their support of the pipeline. He noted the riding sits right on the Salish Sea, where tanker traffic is expected to increase as a result of the pipeline project.
Just as the general population in B.C. is not a monolith on this issue, nor are Indigenous peoples in the province, or outside it, said Mr. Lyle.
“The truth is, the First Nations directly involved in this are divided,” he said.
Real test for Liberals will be handling of pipeline opposition in coming months: Lyle
Many Indigenous communities and groups are strongly opposed to the pipeline expansion—with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish First Nation in B.C. among the most vocal opponents—but others are backing the Kinder Morgan project.
To date, 51 Indigenous communities in B.C. (41) and Alberta (10) have reportedly signed mutual-benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan.
On the flip side, nine applicants—including First Nations groups and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby—have appealed a judicial review of the government’s 2016 order in council decision approving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, citing inadequate consultations with First Nations by the Crown. Proceedings on the appeal wrapped up in mid-October, with a decision now being awaited. Should the ruling land in the applicants’ favour, the federal government could be forced to reopen consultations on the project.
Mr. Lyle noted that so far, legal challenges on Kinder Morgan “have not seen the success that the legal challenges” on the failed Northern Gateway project did; and if the courts rule that Indigenous communities were adequately consulted, “then it’s hard to see how that plays badly for the federal government.”
There are other issues facing Indigenous people across Canada that are more likely to move votes in 2019, said Mr. Lyle—over child welfare, housing on reserves, clean drinking water, and the fate of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, among others—but on the pipeline issue, the real test for the Liberals will be how they handle opposition to it in the coming months.
If mishandled, a dangerous “narrative” could grow around the Liberals when it comes to its stated efforts to recognize Indigenous rights.
“Being seen to run roughshod on Indigenous rights on any type of resource development is going to be a huge problem for them” in B.C. and beyond, said Mr. Lyle.
The Liberal government’s first test in this regard could come soon, with a mass demonstration on March 10 being planned on Burnaby Mountain.
On Feb. 15, the NEB issued a decision allowing Kinder Morgan to build a 2.6 kilometre tunnel through Burnaby Mountain to connect a terminal in Burnaby to the Westridge Marine Terminal.
Already, an appeal of this decision has been launched by the city of Burnaby, with the B.C. government having applied for intervener status on Feb. 17.
Anti-pipeline activists, including B.C. First Nations groups, are organizing a mass protest on Burnaby Mountain on March 10—where Kinder Morgan plans to soon begin clearing trees in order to build the pipeline tunnel.
Back in 2014, more than 100 Kinder Morgan pipeline protestors were arrested on Burnaby Mountain. Among those arrested was Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which represents about 118 First Nations in B.C (“many” of whom, he said, oppose the pipeline). Last week, he told The Hill Times that already, “a number of high profiles leaders,” including himself, “have indicated that they’re willing to be arrested on that day.”
“As time moves forward there will be an intensification of this battle—political battle, legal battle, as well as on the ground and as Kinder Morgan attempts to undertake preparatory work,” he said.
Mr. Phillip said he is “vehemently opposed” to the Kinder Morgan project, citing the “catastrophic” risks a spill or rupture pose to the environment and a lack of capacity to clean up any spills. He said the only course of action the government should take from here is to stop the project.
“What would be meaningful is if they did as the Trudeau government promised during the last federal election and redid the Canadian environmental assessment process and the NEB approval process in partnership and jointly with Indigenous peoples, [before approving the project], and of course we know that didn’t happen,” he said.
“People don’t appreciate being misled and deliberately lied to, and that’s what’s happened here in the case of the Trudeau government vis-a-vis the Trans Mountain pipeline project, so there’s no forgiveness there.”
In mid-February, the government tabled legislation—Bill C-68 and Bill C-69—to overhaul environmental assessment processes, including scrapping the NEB.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs held a quarterly meeting last week, and as part of it, heard from Joe Wild, senior assistant deputy minister for Treaties and Aboriginal Government, who was “challenged” on the Prime Minister’s Feb. 14 speech about the importance of recognizing Indigenous rights, said Mr. Phillip.
“’How can you talk about respecting and implementing Indigenous rights…and on the other hand, approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline proposal?’ And he had no answer for that,” he said.
Earlier this month, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) hired former Indigenous Centre of Energy president Cheryl Cardinal to serve as director of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, a brand new role in his office. A member of the Sucker Creek Cree Nation, she started on the job last week.
In July, the government announced $64.7-million over five years to fund an Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee focused on the Kinder Morgan project.
The Hill Times
Federal ridings with a strong First Nations vote, and ridings with a small vote-margin in B.C. in 2015
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has highlighted 51 federal ridings where he said First Nations voters were an influential electoral force in 2015. Of those, 11 are located in B.C.
The lone Alberta riding on the list is Edmonton Griesbach, Alta., which sits just across the North Saskatchewan River from Kinder Morgan’s Edmonton terminal, and is now held by Conservative MP Kerry Diotte, who garnered 2,848 more votes than NDP candidate Janis Irwin (an almost six per cent vote margin).
|Riding||MP||Margin of Victory|
|Cariboo-Prince George, B.C.||CPC MP Todd Doherty||2,767 votes (5.5%)|
|Courtenay-Alberni, B.C.||NDP MP Gord Johns||6,868 votes (9.8%)|
|Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, B.C.||NDP MP Alistair MacGregor||7,515 votes (12.2%)|
|Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, B.C.||Liberal MP Jati Sidhu||1,038 votes (2.3%)|
|Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C.||NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson||6,898 votes (9.7%)|
|Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, B.C.||NDP MP Randall Garrison||5,214 votes (7.7%)|
|Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.||NDP MP Nathan Cullen||11,595 votes (26.3%)|
|South Okanagan-West Kootenay, B.C.||NDP MP Richard Cannings||4,952 votes (7.4%)|
|Surrey Centre, B.C.||Liberal MP Randeep Sarai||6,479 votes (15%)|
|Surrey-Newton, B.C.||Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal||13,267 votes (29.9%)|
|North Island-Powell River, B.C.||NDP MP Rachel Blaney||8,500 votes (14%)|
A total of 70 ridings were won in 2015 by a vote margin of five per cent or less, and of those, nine are in B.C. That includes South Surrey-White Rock, B.C., which now-former Conservative MP Dianne Watts won in 2015 by a margin of 2.5 per cent of the vote. In a Dec. 11 byelection in the riding, Liberal Gordie Hogg won the seat by a margin of almost 5.4 per cent of the vote.
|Riding||MP||Margin of Victory|
|Burnaby South, B.C.||NDP MP Kennedy Stewart||1.2%|
|Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, B.C.||CPC MP Dan Albas||2.4%|
|Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, B.C.||Liberal MP Ron McKinnon||3.3%|
|Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, B.C.||CPC MP Cathy McLeod||4.5%|
|Kootenay-Columbia, B.C.||NDP MP Wayne Stetski||0.4%|
|Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, B.C.||Liberal MP Jati Sidhu||2.3%|
|Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge, B.C.||Liberal MP Dan Ruimy||2.5%|
|Richmond Centre, B.C.||CPC MP Alice Wong||2.8%|
These two lists combined cover 18 unique federal ridings in B.C.
—Compiled by Laura Ryckewaert