Of politics and pipelines

Monday, October 01, 2012

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

FOR THE LAST FEW MONTHS WE HAVE witnessed a bizarre spectacle—politicians at every level of government taking every conceivable side on the issue of proposed pipeline construction. It has been mindboggling. In the normal course of events, the pipeline proponent submits a proposal for pipeline construction. Environmental impact assessments are conducted, public hearings are held and, at the conclusion of the process, a licence to build is granted or denied.

It seems to me, that this time the debate has been more emotional than factual. Even more disconcerting is the political posturing at all levels of government. Rightly or wrongly, the federal government has decided that exporting raw Alberta bitumen is an appropriate vehicle for economic diversification. The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal is a big part of the Harper government’s economic program. For decades, a process has been in place to consider the impact a project such as Northern Gateway might have on the communities, land, air, water and people. And while the process can be frustrated by hundreds, if not thousands of people making nearly identical presentations, the fact is that the process was deliberately truncated by the government after it was under way. The rancour which followed must have been envisaged by both the government and the proponent. Regardless, the proposal pushes ahead.

Enter our provincial government. Knowing the proposal was being developed, the provincial Liberal government steadfastly refused to take a position either for or against it for several years. Only recently did Premier Christie Clark come out with a scatter gun approach to the proposal. Clark wants: 1) the National Energy Board to approve the proposal (that goes without saying); 2) world-leading marine and land oil spill responses (which is part of the NEB mandate); 3) better economic benefits for B.C. (which, while the council agrees, would substantially alter the documents of Confederation); and 4) appropriate consideration by Ottawa for the legal requirements of First Nations affected by the project (which the council wholly supports, but is already required).

Along the pipeline route, local governments and First Nations have taken positions both for and against. Indeed some have even gone from one side to the other.

For the average observer, the combination of permutations and alterations by our political leadership is overwhelming, confusing and if not deceptive, at least oblique. It is time for some clarity. In British Columbia, there are almost 100,000 kilometres of pipelines transporting everything from crude oil to jet fuel. Pipelines, even with the risk of leaks and spills are the safest mode of transport, and safer and more efficient than rail or truck transport. Skilled members of the Building Trades have, for the most part, been responsible for construction of those pipelines. Our skills deliver products from the source to consumers which allow us to fuel our vehicles, cook our dinners and heat our homes in winter. And while all of us support efforts to find cleaner sources of energy, it will likely be decades before we are weaned off carbon fuels.

Meanwhile, regardless of the commodities they transport, more pipelines will be built throughout British Columbia. Skilled craft workers building those pipelines will ensure those pipelines are built to the highest industrial standards. And equally important, as unionized trades workers we will make certain the highest environmental standards are adhered to during the construction process.

When these projects proceed, British Columbians need to know the BC Building Trades will not tolerate environmental contravention. In the same manner that we fight for better personal safety at the worksite, we will fight to ensure the work we do has the least environmental impact. After all, we’re British Columbians too!

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