The NDP government is living up to its campaign promise to use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
While many British Columbians cheer on Premier John Horgan, the government will have to manage the downside of killing jobs if it spikes the $7.4-billion project.
Last week, the government said it has hired former judge Thomas Berger, a former NDP leader, to help it seek intervener status in court challenges. It has also told Kinder Morgan that the company shouldn’t bank on beginning construction by its September target date.
Several First Nations and municipalities are going to court to try to halt the project, which would triple the capacity of the pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby and increase the number of tankers in Vancouver-area waters and Juan de Fuca Strait.
Although the federal government signed off on the environmental certificate for the expansion, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said the province has accepted only three of eight required environmental-management plans. He said it’s unlikely the remaining five will get the OK before September because the company didn’t adequately consult First Nations.
“Until that has been completed, Kinder Morgan, with the exception of some private land and some clearing of right-of-way, cannot put shovels in the ground,” he said.
That position will warm the hearts of the many who have marched and campaigned against the pipeline, but those who see the economic and employment benefits say the NDP is holding up a big sign that says: “B.C. is not open for business.”
The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors said the province is “holding the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of Canadians and British Columbians hostage.” But it’s not only the industry that stands to benefit from the project, which Kinder Morgan says could generate 189,000 person-years of employment in B.C.
Trans Mountain has signed mutual-benefit agreements with 51 First Nations. Heyman said some nations are not necessarily in favour of the pipeline, but want to ensure they benefit if it goes ahead. Stopping the project would erase those benefits.
The federal government said it has facts and evidence on its side, and the project is in the national interest. The province has a difficult battle against federal powers, but it has the B.C. Green Party to stiffen its resolve.
With the Greens dead-set against the pipeline and Green Leader Andrew Weaver holding the NDP’s slender majority in his hands, Horgan can’t afford to back down from the fight.
However, now that he is fighting Kinder Morgan, might be reconsidering the bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel and has sent the Site C dam project to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review, the premier has to be careful he doesn’t get a reputation as a job-killer.
He has put money into adult education, welfare increases, a new human-rights commission and other initiatives that fulfil campaign promises. Spending that cash while opposing projects that create jobs plays into the B.C. Liberal characterizations of the NDP as being loose with public money.
Asked about what the government would say to workers who fear those jobs will evaporate, Heyman told a reporter: “What I would say is this government has many plans for capital infrastructure, plans that we will proceed with over the coming months and years. They will provide many good jobs.”
That sounds promising, but it also sounds vague. On Kinder Morgan, the government has showed us its determination — now show us the jobs.