Prime Minister Harper pushes for pipeline in Kelowna

Senior ministers directed by PM to make trips to BC in support of oil strategy

By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Kelowna the weekend of September 14 for a national caucus meeting, as well as to meet with residents opposed to the proposed pipeline projects in British Columbia.

Although details of Harper’s agenda while in the province have not been disclosed, there is a broad consensus that the trip to Canada’s West Coast is to make a big push in support of building the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines, as well as expanding the existing Kinder Morgan Pipeline.

The Keystone Pipeline, which has been the focus of intense media attention and scrutiny over the last year, will take bitumen products from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in Texas. While none of the components of the proposed Keystone Pipeline are to be built in British Columbia, Aboriginal leaders across the country have been vocal in their opposition to it, citing negative environmental impacts.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline project proposes a 1,170-km twin pipeline from the oil sands to the port of Kitimat, in northern British Columbia. Opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline is focused on the company Enbridge, which has a relatively poor record on pipeline safety and security. The proposed flow of oil makes pristine areas of the province potentially vulnerable to oil spills. The oil would be carried onto tankers destined for Asia.

The proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, however, strikes at the heart of every British Columbian, especially those living in the province’s Lower Mainland. The current pipeline, which was designed to transport crude oil but now carries refined product from the oil sands, ends at the Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby. The expansion, which proposes to twin the pipeline, is meant to accommodate more than double the amount of oil, from 300,000 barrels to almost 900,000 barrels per day, to oil tankers in the Burrard Inlet. The oil is then exported to oil-hungry markets in Asia.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline was ruptured accidentally by sewer contractors working for the City of Burnaby, causing an oil spill that forced evacuations and damaged homes and marine wildlife, as well as resulting in traffic disruptions for months after the spill was contained.

Environmentalists and First Nations leaders opposed to the pipeline say that the government is meeting with them purely as a formality, while the Harper government contends it is consulting with all interested parties.

The debate, especially with regards to the Northern Gateway pipeline, has also led to somewhat frosty relations between BC Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford; relations which have warmed significantly since their respective surprise election victories.

The Prime Minister’s office has directed senior cabinet officials to travel to British Columbia, starting on September 23, to engage in a public opinion campaign which they hope will win them greater support for the building of the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines and the expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan Pipeline.