First Nations and Lower Mainland municipal leaders say they are disappointed the provincial NDP has not come out against the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan's oil pipeline from Alberta to Burrard Inlet.
Moments after signing a symbolic "international treaty" against oil sands projects, newly-elected chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh, whose territory runs along sections of the inlet, said they have reached out to the NDP, hoping they would join their campaign to fight the plan to twin Kinder Morgan's existing pipeline.
The project, if approved, would nearly triple the pipeline's current capacity of 300,000 barrels a day, and lead to greatly increased oil tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet.
"We are disappointed [the NDP is not opposing the pipeline]," Chief Thomas said Friday. "I'm not here to criticize them, but it would be so valuable, if they would step forward and support our position."
The NDP, which has spoken out strongly against the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project further north, has taken a more wait-and-see attitude on the Kinder Morgan proposal, noting the company has yet to submit a detailed application to the National Energy Board.
NDP environment critic Rob Fleming said no government can stop Kinder Morgan from applying to the NEB for approval.
"But what an NDP government can do differently is to ensure that any company planning to move oil through B.C. faces a strong, rigorous, made-in-B.C. environmental review," Mr. Fleming said. "Our MLAs and our party have a real concern about some of the things the company is [talking about]…but you need the details."
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, however, called the NDP's stance "pretty frustrating. I would have liked to see them come out with a firm position in regard to the Kinder Morgan proposal."
Burnaby was hit with a spill of 225,000 litres of oil several years ago, when an equipment operator severed the Kinder Morgan pipeline running through the municipality.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he understands NDP leader Adrian Dix's desire for more detailed information from Kinder Morgan before passing judgment.
"But I think the company's intentions are clear, and I think it would be an important step to see leadership at the provincial level for us to have comfort," he said.
Chief Thomas and the two mayors provided their views ahead of a widely-attended West Coast Oil Pipeline Summit, sponsored by the Tsleil-Waututh, where all three were scheduled speakers.
Environmental activists, native groups and Greater Vancouver say one major spill in Burrard Inlet would cost billions of dollars in clean up costs and permanently damage the inlet's environmental health.
Mr. Robertson said he thinks the proposed pipeline should emerge as an issue during the current provincial election campaign.
"I'd like to see all the parties come out strongly against the Kinder Morgan pipeline. People are passionate about this," he said. "I think this will be Enbridge Round Two and then some, given the scale of population here and the massive economy that is put at risk by a potential spill in our waters."
Environment Minister Terry Lake accused the NDP of making up policy on the fly, depending on which way the wind is blowing.
Regarding Kinder Morgan's expansion, Mr. Lake said the Liberals are applying the same five conditions to its approval, as they are to the Enbridge pipeline plan.
The conditions include strongly reducing environmental risks and legitimate consultation with and meaningful benefits offered to the First Nations, he said. "But that's not a veto," Mr. Lake added.
Meanwhile, other prominent First Nations leaders joined with Ms. Thomas and the Tsleil-Waututh in pledging all-out opposition to Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion.
"I stand fully in support of them," declared National Chief Shawn Atleo of the First Nations Assembly, who was on hand for the treaty signing. "As indigenous people, we will carry forward our vision of a more sustainable way."
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he, too, is disappointed the NDP has not opposed Kinder Morgan as they have the Enbridge pipeline.
"But we're not impressed with the Liberals' wishy-washy position, based on their five conditions," he said. "And I do think the NDP has a very measured approach on the critical issues that confront the next government. At the end of the day, I think they are going to come around and see the light, because opposition to these pipeline proposals is absolutely overwhelming."