Critics of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion plan say increased tanker traffic will put B.C.'s coastline at risk.

Critics of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion plan say increased tanker traffic will put B.C.'s coastline at risk.

Column: Pipeline debate blurs lines of agreement

Traditional alliances are being pushed aside as debate over the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project heats up.

Pipelines, like politics, make strange bedfellows.

That was evident this week as the NDP premier of Alberta was in B.C. to make her pitch for the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The $6.8 billion project earned the support last week of the federal Liberal government, which made its approval contingent on 157 conditions.

The provincial Liberals have yet to offer their endorsement. However, Premier Christy Clark has hinted the project is close to meeting her government’s five conditions for approval.

Provincial NDP leader John Horgan, despite initial evidence of support, is adamantly opposed. He accused the premier of putting B.C. jobs at risk, saying his party cannot support a project where B.C. assumes most of the environmental risk while gaining only scraps of the economic benefits.

The Kinder Morgan project would nearly triple the export capability of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from Edmonton, through Chilliwack, to the company’s terminal in the Burrard Inlet. It would follow the existing pipeline right-of-way for most of the journey, including its controversial crossing of the Vedder Aquifer here in Chilliwack.

Approval by the federal Liberals last week highlighted the deep divisions the pipeline project has spawned. Environmental groups vowed to continue the fight, even threatening to put the issue to a referenda. “If politicians and Big Oil think they can push reckless tanker projects through our province despite First Nations and public opposition, we’ll launch a citizens’ initiative,” said one group.

Business groups, meanwhile, celebrated the move, saying it would spur growth and fire the economy. “This project is a big economic win for B.C. and for Canada,” said BC Chamber president and CEO Val Litwin.

Notley, whose New Democrat lineage stretches back decades, echoed the pro business sentiment. She said the project will create 38,000 person-years of employment, add approximately $1 billion to B.C.’s GDP, and boost marine traffic by six per cent in the province’s main port city.

Her B.C. NDP counterpart argues the threat to B.C.’s coastline is simply not worth it.

But he’s not the only politician to blur expected allegiances. Even some Liberal MPs have voiced concern over their party’s approval of the project, and Chilliwack Conservative MP Mark Strahl, meanwhile, is supporting the Liberal decision.

Some of the sharpest criticism has come from First Nations in B.C. And there, too, opinions are divided.

While some First Nations remain staunchly opposed to Trans Mountain, others are more accommodating. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver, for example, say their very survival is at stake. However, another 39 First Nations have signed co-operation agreements with Kinder Morgan.

One of the most recent is the Sqéwqel Development Corporation on behalf of the Seabird Island Band near Agassiz. Sqéwqel recently joined with several other local businesses to “level the playing field” as they prepare for possible pipeline construction.

“In a major project like the Trans Mountain Pipeline, Sqéwqel has been strategically aligning partnerships with the right type of service companies for opportunities in civil construction, supplier, fabrication, safety services, security and remediation in order to benefit from the construction of the pipeline for the short term and long term,” said Brian Titus, CEO of Sqéwqel Development Corporation.

And that seems to be the theme of the current pipeline debate: An answer won’t be found in the neat pockets of black or white, but bobs instead in the murky grey of compromise.