In a fiery speech that probably caused Kinder Morgan oil executives to face palm, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan promised to join thousands of people willing to be arrested to stop the proposed Trans Mountain expansion pipeline from slicing his city.
He said he'd be prepared to do this, if his city's legal team fails to stop the $5.4-billion Edmonton-to-Burnaby oil sands pipeline.
The municipal leader, whose city neighbours Vancouver, told a packed gymnasium crowd Wednesday evening:
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“If we go to court, we’re going to go to court with clean hands and ensure we’ve done everything humanly possible before I stand with you and probably 10,000 other people and get arrested to stop this [pipeline],” he told the crowd, Burnaby Now newspaper reported.
“That’s a hard thing to promise for a lawyer and a mayor. It will probably be the end of my career. But if I end my career on that note, it will be something that I’m very proud of, that I stood my ground.”
Among the 200 residents attending the event organized by the citizens group, BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion), was John Clarke, a former manufacturing company owner. Clarke said he was amazed by the mayor's remarks. "He said we need 10,000 people out willing to be arrested, and that's a pretty bold statement for a lawyer to make, because he'd not be able to practice law if went through with it. It wasn't an idle threat."
In April, Kinder Morgan's U.S. billionaire CEO Rich Kinder told a Houston crowd he was "astounded" by the level of opposition to his project in British Columbia. It is the largest and most significant infrastructure project in the giant corporation's plans.
But getting arrested over Kinder Morgan's pipeline proposal would be nothing new. More than 100 people were arrested last fall in a dramatic two weeks of clashes on Burnaby Mountain during pipeline drill tests that even saw B.C.'s Grand Chief Stewart Phillip get arrested. The company was attempting to determine the suitability of burrowing a tunnel under the mountain, so the pipeline would avoid homes and streets.
Mayor Corrigan said Friday his latest promise to be taken into custody to oppose the pipeline is not out of line with what he’s already said publicly.
“I said earlier that I would lie down in front of a bulldozer so I don’t think it’s much of an extension,” he told the National Observer.
In response, Kinder Morgan Canada’s media department said simply: "We'd like [to] work co-operatively with the city.”
That may prove challenging. The mayor has been dead set against the project since last year when his city’s legal team attempted to stop the company's pipeline drill tests on Burnaby Mountain. The forested area is one of the city’s treasured conservation parks. Corrigan said the drilling activity was a violation of the municipal conservation bylaws.
Kinder Morgan defeated those legal efforts, stating that the federal government, via Canada's National Energy Board [NEB], had the power to authorize the drill tests. But Mayor Corrigan, a University of British Columbia law school grad, is not giving up. He said two new legal attacks will fight for all Canadian cities to have a greater say in major pipeline decisions.
The first action will be a trial in the B.C. Supreme Court to challenge the National Energy Board’s power to overrule city bylaws.
The second will be in federal court to challenge the NEB itself, after it makes its final recommendation to Ottawa about whether to approve the pipeline.
Corrigan said the NEB pipeline review process is a "system that has failed us entirely.”
Already, many prominent pipeline hearing participants such as former B.C. public auto insurance CEO Robyn Allan, are dropping out of the NEB's hearings on the Kinder Morgan pipeline because they believe its approval is a foregone conclusion, despite widespread opposition.
The Harper government streamlined its pipeline reviews to make them faster and put the final say in the hands of the federal cabinet. It also prohibited anyone who is not “directly affected” by the pipeline from speaking out at the hearings due to climate change or oil sands concerns.
Mayor Corrigan says the hearing process is a sham and the federal government is abusing its power.
“I think a government that acts that way does so at its own peril. Because, ultimately, democracy will rise up, and will have an impact. We saw that in Alberta, and we’ll continue to see that.”
He expects his legal attack will go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, because neither side will be satisfied with the outcome of the trial.
The city —with a population of 200,000 —polled its citizens last year and found 70 per cent support the mayor's opposition to the pipeline.
As a sign the coming battle, the City of Burnaby's press releases lately have become increasingly dramatic —"National Energy Board (NEB) Slams Door in Burnaby’s Face – Yet Again,” for example.
Last November during the Burnaby Mountain clashes, many saw the drama as the front line in a battle against climate change. Others didn't like the surge in oil tankers that would result. Corrigan had long stated he was opposed to the muscling of a giant multinational seeking to override his council's opposition to the project.
His fire department officials, who also spoke to the crowd Wednesday, warned the project's expanded oil tank farm near a densely populated suburb is a significant fire-fighting risk should a catastrophic fire occur.
Kinder Morgan disputes that:
"There’s nothing more important than the safety of our neighbours and the communities where our pipeline and terminals operate. The terminal in Burnaby has been operating safely for 60 years and through our maintenance, prevention and emergency preparedness programs, we are confident in our ability to prevent and respond to all kinds of incidents," wrote Kinder Morgan senior director Michael Davies on Friday.
The 1,150-kilometre pipeline expansion would pump 890,000 barrels of oil per day and multiply oil tanker traffic in the Port of Vancouver six fold, from 60 to 400 per year.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates the pipeline, if approved, would create 4,500 construction jobs, and 3,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs per year of operations. It also estimates $480 million in direct construction workforce spending in communities along the pipeline route.
The pipeline to the West Coast would enable the Alberta oil industry to continue expanding bitumen production. Climate change targets announced last week by the Harper government notably left out emission-curbing actions against the oil sands.
If the regulatory application process is successful, Kinder Morgan says construction of the new pipeline could begin in 2016.