Bid to stop more oil-tanker traffic approved by narrowest of margins

Activists taken aback by vote, pipeline supporters delighted

A resolution calling for the Union of B.C. Municipalities to oppose any projects leading to expansion of oil tanker traffic through B.C. coastal waters narrowly squeaked through Thursday.

The non-binding resolution, proposed at the group's meeting in Victoria by Saanich, passed with 51 per cent of the vote, with 450 votes cast, leaving both sides in the tanker debate claiming a measure of victory.

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In 2010, a UBCM resolution asking for a legislated ban on bulk crude oiltankers in specific northern B.C. waters passed with an easy majority.

But this year's resolution went much further, encompassing other projects such as Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline twinning and the subsequent increase in tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet, said Eric Swanson of the Dogwood Initiative.

"The vote was so tight because today's resolution aggressively pushed the envelope," Swanson said. "Some were reluctant because it was not just about Enbridge. ... People are still gathering information about Kinder Morgan. This is brand new territory."

Thursday's resolution included a second part, calling on the province to use any available means to stop the expansion of oil tanker traffic through B.C.'s coastal waters.

Saanich Coun. Vicki Sanders said it appeared from the debate that many delegates in the room had not read the resolution.

"It shouldn't have been a squeaker," she said.

"It was to urge the province not to expand tanker traffic. There was no ban. There was no ruining our economy."

Polling shows a majority of British Columbians oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, which, if approved, would mean super-tankers carrying bitumen through northern B.C. waters, but the vote did not reflect that feeling, said EsquimaltRoyal Roads MLA Maurine Karagianis.

"Does it mean that our municipal leaders are not as in touch with their constituents on this issue as they should be?" she asked.

Passage of the vote should send a strong message that there is opposition to any expansion of oil tanker traffic, Swanson said.

That was not how the vote was interpreted by Colin Kinsley, chairman of the Northern Gateway Alliance, a coalition of business and community leaders who support the project going through the full review process.

Kinsley, a Prince George resident, said the vote was a pleasant surprise, especially as mainstream media portray widespread opposition, and electronic voting allowed people to vote how they wanted without fear.

"There's some very wellorganized opposition, so to have this kind of a vote is more than I really expected," he said.

"There has been a lot of intimidation and bullying going on behind the scenes, so this electronic vote was a godsend to me."

Michele Perret, Enbridge municipal and community relations spokeswoman, said the vote reflects support that the company believes exists in B.C.

"We have been talking to people along the proposed right-of-way and we know there's strong support out there for this project," she said. "A narrow vote like this shows more discussion is required."

Green Party of B.C. leader Jane Sterk was among those taken aback by the close vote.

"It doesn't make sense," said Sterk, whose party opposes any expansion of coastal tanker traffic.

"There was an oil and gas reception last night. Maybe enough people were seduced into their point of view. It was closer than predicted," said Sterk, who wants the B.C. government to step in with give a clear message that the province opposes Northern Gateway.

"We don't need to mess around with extended environmental assessments that go on for years and years and usually just delay approval," she said.

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