COLUMN: Surge of politics in Surrey pipeline

The decision by the federal Liberals to twin the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline has prompted criticism, especially in B.C.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have decided the twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline will go ahead.

The decision, announced last week, has prompted a firestorm of criticism and plenty of political positioning, particularly in B.C.

The pipeline decision has a direct effect on North Surrey, as the existing pipeline runs through Port Kells to near the Port Mann Bridge. The second pipeline will likely follow a different route. Plans call for it to be adjacent to the CN rail line through Surrey, with a river crossing ear the existing pipeline.

The Surrey Board of Trade has taken the position that construction of the pipeline is a good thing, while the City of Surrey took a lukewarm position when it made a presentation to the National Energy Board in January. The city was concerned about costs to taxpayers, and suggested the existing pipeline in Surrey, some of which runs through residential neighbourhoods, be closed.

The city suggested both pipelines run along the new alignment.

Many Surrey residents are indifferent to the pipeline. Some who are active environmentalists oppose it, and some who support economic development back it.

Among those paying the most attention are federal and provincial politicians. The federal Liberals, who swept every Surrey seat in the October 2015 election other than South Surrey-White Rock – held by Conservative MP Dianne Watts – have the keenest interest.

Some Lower Mainland Liberal MPs have already said they oppose the decision by cabinet to approve the pipeline twinning. Thus far, no Surrey MP has made that declaration. Certainly, Surrey MPs are not feeling the heat in the same way as their counterpart Terry Beech, who represents Burnaby and North Vancouver – the exact location where tankers will fill up and head off to sea.

The near-sweep of Surrey seats last year by the Liberals was unexpected. The NDP position on the pipeline is a firm “no” and the party will undoubtedly use that in the 2019 federal election. The good news for Liberal MPs is the election is a long time away.

Provincially, an election is much closer – in just five months. The BC NDP is taking a strong anti-pipeline position, with much opposition based on the risks from an oil spill. The position has been reinforced by the significant spill of diesel fuel near Bella Bella in October. The initial spill response took a long time and there was damage to the shoreline.

The BC Liberals are generally supportive of the pipeline for economic development reasons. However, Premier Christy Clark has been firm that there must be a world-class response to any oil spills before her government will sign on. She also wants “a fair share of fiscal and economic benefits” for B.C. Thus far, other than construction jobs and additional taxes, there are few obvious economic benefits for B.C.

The pipeline will be a significant issue in the provincial election. It played a part in the 2013 election, when then NDP leader Adrian Dix abruptly came out in opposition. The BC Liberals used his flip-flop to great advantage. It is quite likely the BC Liberals won the Surrey-Fleetwood seat because of that shift.

This time around, a pipeline decision is no longer an intangible. Whether either party’s position on the pipeline is a factor at the ballot box remains to be seen.

Whether the pipeline is ever built also remains to be seen. It will be challenged in court, particularly by some First Nations, and those cases will take a long time to resolve. It is quite possible there will not be a start in construction by the time the 2019 federal election rolls around, and there will almost certainly be some form of civil disobedience along the way.

This story is far from over.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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