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Terry Lake, B.C.’s Minister of Environment, makes an announcement in Vancouver on March 13, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
Terry Lake, B.C.’s Minister of Environment, makes an announcement in Vancouver on March 13, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Riding Profile

Riding profile: A different understanding of environmental politics in Kamloops-North Thompson Add to ...

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline runs down the north shore of the Thompson River from the Lac du Bois grasslands – a part of the Kamloops landscape for 60 years.

B.C. Liberal MLA Terry Lake, who is seeking re-election in Kamloops-North Thompson, regularly crosses the buried pipeline when he takes his Labrador retriever, Pal, for a run through Kenna Cartwright Nature Park. “Most people don’t even know it’s there,” he said of the pipeline.

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The controversy around the energy giant’s $5-billion proposal to triple the capacity of the crude oil pipeline, which runs from Edmonton to the Vancouver Harbour for transport overseas, is more of an urban issue, Mr. Lake says.

“That pipeline provides property taxes to a lot of communities in my riding,” he noted in an interview. In a region where forestry, ranching and mining are prime employers, there is a more pragmatic response to the pipeline debate. “People in our region, generally speaking, have a better understanding of how natural resources contribute to our way of life,” said Mr. Lake, who also serves as minister of environment.

Greg Toth, senior project director for the proposed expansion, said the company's public information sessions bear that out. On the coast, pipeline safety and emergency response are top issues of concern. In the interior, communities such as Kamloops have displayed far more interest in the potential for jobs and training opportunities. “The interior generally shows more support for the expansion,” he said.

But NDP Leader Adrian Dix chose this riding – standing on the banks of the Thompson River – to announce his opposition to the pipeline because of the increased oil tanker traffic it would create for Vancouver’s harbour.

It is a policy calculated to win votes in coastal ridings, but the NDP is also hoping to pick up environmental support in this key swing riding. The two Kamloops ridings have long served as political bellwethers – voters here have a knack for favouring the party that forms the provincial government. Mr. Lake, who won his seat in 2009 by just 510 votes, is facing a difficult battle, even with the natural advantage accorded to the incumbent.

NDP candidate Kathy Kendall also seeks to hit a balance between jobs and the environment. The Kinder Morgan pipeline has not emerged as an election issue on the doorstep, she said. “It’s been in their backyard for so long, it’s part of the landscape,” she said. With the anti-tanker stance, the NDP is rolling the dice with Kamloops voters.

Voters here may not share the fervent opposition to pipelines heard in other parts of the province, but the environment is a factor. Mr. Lake faces a backlash from conservative conservationists, like former city councillor Dianne Kerr, over another proposed resource development: the Ajax mine. The open-pit, copper-gold mine would be located partially within the city and is still subject to an environmental review.

Ms. Kerr has always voted and campaigned on the right of the political spectrum. A federal Conservative, she followed the provincial Social Credit party as it morphed into today's B.C. Liberals. At this time in the electoral cycle, she should be doing advance work for Mr. Lake’s party. Now she says she is “ashamed” of the government she helped elect.

“The focus on resource development proceeds with little caution,” she said. “I will not be voting Liberal or Conservative.”

She's worried about the Pacific Way elementary school that sits just a kilometre away from where the ore stockpile would be. “This issue is huge for the rural community,” Ms. Kerr added. “It is right in the city but it’ll dramatically affect all of the ranches in the area. They are concerned about toxic dust, the ground water.”

Mr. Lake is careful not to take sides. “I’m neither for not against [Ajax], but I grew my family up in Kamloops and I don’t want to do anything that will harm the community. If they can demonstrate that they can address the concerns, then we live in a province that encourages that.”

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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