TNRD board chairman John Ranta stepped unwittingly into the centre of a rigorous debate Wednesday as the second and final day of panel sessions on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion got underway at TRU.
Ranta, mayor of Cache Creek, outlined the promised economic benefits of the project, noting the challenge of maintaining jobs in small Interior communities such as his, but his views were challenged by others in the round at Barber Centre.
“There’s a huge sucking sound that you hear from the Lower Mainland and from the larger centres … It’s very difficult to employ our young people at home,” he said, citing potential for 108,000 jobs in the first 20 years.
The regional district — where 36 percent or 357 km of the 980-km pipeline runs — passed a resolution in May supporting the project subject to environmental standards and the province’s five conditions.
Expanding the pipeline is safer than the alternatives of rail or truck transport, Ranta said.
“If ever there were a derailment, then the train’s in the river and where’s it going to come to? It’s going to come to Kamloops,” he said. “With so many conditions on it, it’s going to be the finest pipeline in the world,” he added, calling Trans Mountain’s safety record “impeccable.”
He said he has confidence in the pilots who take charge of the tankers as they make their way up Burrard Inlet to the Kinder Morgan terminal.
“The world runs on fuel nowadays,” Ranta said. “We don’t see the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline as necessarily supporting the continuation of reliance on fossil fuels. It’s an opportunity to build the economy in the country of Canada, to employ people, to ensure that the resources that we’re blessed with in abundance in this country are able to be exported to where they’re needed elsewhere in the world.”
Ann Marie Hunter and several others challenged Ranta’s remarks after they were invited to ask questions of the politician.
“I feel as a resident of Kamloops, my views are not being represented by what you say,” she said.
Five of six City representatives voted in favour of the resolution, Ranta replied.
Hunter said most of the jobs will be temporary, but the long-term health of the marine environment is at risk.
Panel member Tony Penikett interrupted Hunter several times, explaining that it was not a forum for debate between two presenters.
Brigitte O’Regan said Ranta was convincing on the economic side but wondered what he had to say about the health implications of pipeline expansion.
“You sound like an optimist,” she told him.
“I am an optimist,” Ranta replied. “I hadn’t ever intended to be so controversial.”
Ian Mackenzie, another Kamloops resident, asked Ranta whether he thought the project would have a chilling effect on the transition to a low-carbon economy.
“I don’t think the addition of that pipeline will have a chilling effect on research; I think, if anything, it will stimulate additional research, because those concerned with the use of fossil fuels, and I think we all are, will be spurred on,” Ranta said.
“It could be amnesia,” Mackenzie shot back.
“At my age, I think I could be developing it,” Ranta joked.
Will Horter, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, a group opposing the project, questioned Ranta’s background information, particularly his statement that it would not increase oil sands production and his estimate of job creation.
Ranta responded that he doesn’t have time to read the volumes of information published on the project.
“So you’re just making that up?” Horter asked. He also challenged the assumption that the oil would be moved by rail to the Coast if the pipeline doesn't proceed, arguing that there is no capacity to move it through Vancouver.
“Excuse me, we’re not going to have a debate between two people on the floor,” Penikett interjected. “This is not a cross-examination, this is not a court of law.”
CONFLICT ISSUE RAISED
The three-member panel attempted to keep dialogue flowing by sticking to its mandate — to listen, to identify views not heard in the NEB panel hearings on the project and to report back to Ottawa by Nov. 1 prior to a decision on the project by year’s end.
They were appointed by the Trudeau government with the stated purpose of rebuilding confidence in federal assessments, but that same lack of confidence has become an issue for the panel itself. There were accusations Tuesday that one of its members — former Tsawwassen First Nation chief Kim Baird — has either a real or perceived conflict with the potential to undermine public confidence in the process. When she was chief, Baird traded jobs with Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson for a short period and their offices exchanged staff.
Baird defended her position on the panel by saying that she has relationships with a number of organizations, but her explanation didn’t satisfy Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson or Arthur Manuel of the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade. Tony Brumell also questioned her role.
“That woman should not be on the panel,” he said Wednesday. “Not because she necessarily has a conflict but because of a perceived conflict. That puts the panel into question.”
While probing opinions, the panel has repeatedly asked commenters for their views on key questions before it, such as those that would assist the federal cabinet in making a decision in the best interest of Canada.
Coun. Denis Walsh , who also addressed the panel Wednesday, tried to sum up his view on that pivotal issue.
"We know we're in trouble with climate change," he said. "We know we're in trouble with fossil fuels. I think that where our responsibility is, is not to expand something that's basically destroying our planet. People with investments will want to take advantage of that and I don't think that's in our best interest."
MP STRESSES SAFETY
Given the continued reliance on oil, it should be transported as safely as possible from conflict-free regions such as Canada, MP Cathy McLeod said in a submission to the panel.
"It’s clear that our world needs to move toward a future where clean energy is far more paramount. Until that time, we continue to rely on oil for so many aspects of our lives," McLeod said.
"The proposed expansion to the Trans Mountain pipeline is key to bringing Canada’s ethical oil to Asian markets safely and efficiently. According to the federal Department of Natural Resources, Canadian pipelines had a safety rate of 99.999 percent between 2009 and 2013, far greater than any other means of transportation. Further, most of the proposed pipeline would be constructed along the existing pipeline and other infrastructure – only 11 percent would require a new path."
McLeod said the project would create thousands of well-paying jobs and provide an estimated $480 million along the route.