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A member of the Haisla First Nation dances at a celebration after the announcement that Kitimat, B.C., had voted No in the local plebiscite on the Northern Gateway project, April 12, 2014. Residents of the District voted against the pipeline and tanker project by a margin of 58.4 per cent to 41.6 per cent. (Robin Rowland/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A member of the Haisla First Nation dances at a celebration after the announcement that Kitimat, B.C., had voted No in the local plebiscite on the Northern Gateway project, April 12, 2014. Residents of the District voted against the pipeline and tanker project by a margin of 58.4 per cent to 41.6 per cent. (Robin Rowland/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

No might not mean no in Kitimat pipeline vote Add to ...

The results are in from a Kitimat plebiscite on Enbridge Northern Gateway, but the jury is still out on what the community’s “no” vote could mean for the project.

Groups opposed to the $6.5-billion twin-pipeline proposal seized on the results as a platform from which to push for a province-wide vote.

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“We’re so inspired by Douglas Channel Watch, the grassroots community group that defeated Enbridge in Kitimat’s David and Goliath battle,” Dogwood Initiative spokeswoman Celine Trojand said Sunday in a statement.

“Now it’s time to scale up and organize all across the province so every British Columbian gets the chance to vote.”

Under B.C. legislation, any British Columbian can bring a matter of provincial jurisdiction forward for a vote, provided they collect supporting signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding in the province.

Enbridge, meanwhile, said the plebiscite showed the company had “more work to do” to generate support for its proposal.

In preliminary results released Saturday, 58.4 per cent of voters voted ‘no’ and 41.6 per cent voted ‘yes,’ with 3,071 voters taking part. (The district recorded 4,300 registered voters in the 2011 municipal elections.)

The District of Kitimat passed a resolution in January to hold the plebiscite, which featured a flurry of advertising in recent weeks as both sides scrambled to win support.

Council is scheduled to discuss the results Monday.

For Enbridge, the result is another bump on what has been an extremely rocky road in terms of building support for its project, said Andrew Leach, an economist at the University of Alberta.

“This is the town with the most permanent employment impact; it’s the area of B.C. where Enbridge has concentrated significant effort [to promote the project]. … I don’t know how you could see this as anything other than a significant hit [to Enbridge],” Dr. Leach said on Sunday.

The results can also be seen as a setback for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government’s resource-development agenda, he added.

“If you think about where the Conservative base is going to be for this pipeline, you would expect it to be in locations like Kitimat,” he said, adding that the plebiscite came the same week that First Nations groups made some of their strongest statements to date against the project.

Although the plebiscite generated considerable public attention, it is not likely to have anything other than symbolic impact, Haisla Nation chief councillor Ellis Ross said on Sunday.

“Either way it would not have been binding and it doesn’t matter in terms of what the project needs to go ahead anyway,” Mr. Ross said.

Many Haisla were not allowed to vote because Kitamaat Village, a federal Indian reserve, is outside the municipal boundaries.

The Haisla have long voiced their opposition to Northern Gateway and in January, teamed up with other First Nation and environmental groups to seek a judicial review of a decision made by the project’s Joint Review Panel in December.

In that decision, the panel recommended the federal government approve the project, subject to 209 required conditions.

The $6.5-billion project involves two pipelines, one that would carry oil from Alberta to Kitimat’s port, and a second carrying condensate – a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen – from Kitimat back to Alberta.

The federal cabinet is expected to release its decision on Northern Gateway by June.

With a report from Canadian Press

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

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