British Columbians are set to be first in line for thousands of jobs associated with the planned expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, but unions eager to have their members build the project say they're concerned they have yet to be given any information.
Earlier this week, the project cleared a major milestone as the B.C. government announced its approval, in large part due to a financial deal with Kinder Morgan Canada worth up to $1-billion in revenue-sharing payments over the next two decades.
Kinder Morgan said the project would create more than 15,000 jobs in construction per year between 2017 and 2019.
But Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, said in an interview that his organization has not had the kind of specific engagement with Kinder Morgan that it would have anticipated for the "massive" project.
"In order for us to supply the right skills at the right time, we need to have better engagement," he said, adding he doesn't know how Kinder Morgan will source its labour. It's also not clear what the "British Columbia first" policy will actually mean for decisions about hiring and contracting work.
"As of this moment, we're not engaged to the degree that we would like to be," he said.
The expansion is going to be challenging, requiring skilled labour, he said. It involves expanding the capacity of the 60-year-old pipeline that runs 1,150 kilometres from Alberta to the Lower Mainland. "We're going under rivers, over rivers. There's going to be tunnelling. There's going to be, in some places, some slopes with grade so significant that heavy equipment is going to have to be tethered so it doesn't fall."
Brian Cochrane, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, representing 11,000 B.C. members in heavy-equipment operations that would be needed for pipeline construction, said there were some preliminary discussions with Kinder Morgan some time ago.
"And then things went silent."
Now he said he's hoping for a call from Kinder Morgan to discuss its employment needs for the $6.8-billion project. He said the use of temporary foreign workers or crews from outside Canada would, in his view, be at odds with the promises around B.C. involvement made by the company and the provincial government.
In announcing that the proposal has met the province's five conditions for heavy-oil projects, the B.C. government said this week that British Columbians will be first in line for jobs connected with the expected 75,000 person years of employment associated with the pipeline.
The Conference Board of Canada has said the project is expected to generate $46.7-billion in government revenues and the equivalent of 40,000 jobs each year for 20 years.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the province's deal with Kinder Morgan included a commitment to "put British Columbians first when it comes to hiring for building and maintaining this project, that they will make sure that top qualified British Columbians are the ones that get these jobs and these contracts in our province."
However, Lionel Railton, Canadian director of the International Union of Operating Engineers representing 12,000 members in British Columbia, said, as of Thursday, that there are "no firm commitments" that his union's members will be given an opportunity to work on the project.
"Our outreach to [Kinder Morgan] has been met with, 'Be patient. Be patient. We'll get around to talking to you.' " He said the company's drive to get shovels in the ground by September is going to create a pinched time frame for recruiting workers.
A spokesperson said the company is working through details on next steps for the project.
"Trans Mountain continues to proceed with project planning, permitting, engagement and design in order to meet conditions and will begin awarding construction-related contracts after all internal approvals have been met," Ali Hounsell, speaking for the Trans Mountain Expansion, said in a statement.
Ms. Hounsell referred to a website that offers procurement and employment updates.
Jim Brander, an economist at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, said the perceived job-creation bounty associated with such pipeline projects is sometimes misleading because they do not create new jobs, but just recruit workers with specific skills from other employers.
"This is not a case of taking unemployed people off the streets to fill these jobs," he said in an interview. "These are skilled jobs done by people who would otherwise be working elsewhere."