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British Columbia With decisions being made far away, local election candidates battle over resource development

Opponents of a proposed open-pit copper and gold mine in Kamloops are urging local voters, when they head to the polls in the Nov. 15 municipal election, to throw out most of the incumbents in city hall.

In Burnaby, Mayor Derek Corrigan has championed efforts to stop the expansion of Kinder Morgan's oil pipeline, aligning himself with a passionate protest in his community that folds neatly into his campaign for re-election.

Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johansson, a staunch opponent of the Site C dam, has already been re-elected by acclamation.

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Battles over resource development play a role in this year's civic elections, but there is another uniting theme: There are few levers that these municipal politicians can grasp to block unwanted projects.

In Kamloops, only two members of council have spoken against the Ajax mine, notes a flyer from the Stop Ajax Mine campaign. "Voting for the rest will result in the same weak council that we have had to endure during the most important issue ever in our beautiful city."

Tina Lange is one of the incumbents who has won an endorsement from the Stop Ajax group. She believes most of her fellow councillors have stayed on the fence to avoid alienating voters over a highly divisive topic.

"It could well take me down. I'm politically right-of-centre; I think a lot of my support has been from the business community," she said in an interview. Ms. Lange has a son-in-law who works for nearby Highland Valley Copper, and she describes herself as pro-mining – except when the mine would be partly inside the city limits, 1,500 metres from an elementary school.

The proponent, KGHM International, plans to submit an environmental assessment application to the federal and provincial review agencies early in the new year. Others on council are waiting for those reviews to be completed before making up their minds.

Ms. Lange says she is not prepared to leave her trust in a higher level of government to keep her community safe. "I'm against it until they can prove to me they will do no harm to this community."

Over to Burnaby, where the city is trying to block Kinder Morgan's plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline by preventing survey work. When Kinder Morgan contacted residents directly to defend its project, Mr. Corrigan penned a 2,000-word letter to his constituents in rebuttal. "Kinder Morgan says they are looking to reinforce their 'rights' to undertake the destructive work they call 'studies' in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area," he wrote. "We have made it clear to Kinder Morgan that no route through our city is acceptable."

So far, the city has had its legal wings clipped. Burnaby argued the National Energy Board couldn't override municipal bylaws, but the federal energy regulator ruled in the company's favour. Naturally, Burnaby is appealing the ruling.

The mayor of the district of Hudson's Hope isn't surprised that Burnaby hasn't found a way yet to stop the pipeline. It's a familiar story in her community of 1,100 people, which will be more adversely affected than any other municipality by the proposed Site C dam.

"The biggest problem Hudson's Hope has is that we have so little control over our own destiny. We're always waiting for a decision from somewhere else," Ms. Johansson said. The proponent in this case is the Crown corporation BC Hydro, which has expropriation powers. It does not have to follow municipal bylaws and it happens to be the largest property owner in town.

"The decisions as to what happens in Hudson's Hope are made far away, and the decision-makers seldom are around to look out the window at the consequences of their decisions," she said.

Back in Kamloops, Ms. Lange will find out on Saturday whether her stand against Ajax is political gold, or whether she has attached herself to a lead balloon. She's not alone: There are eight candidates for city council who are against Ajax. If that unofficial slate makes a breakthrough at the polls, Ms. Lange hopes it will make it clear the company does not have the social licence to proceed. It may be the strongest leg they have to stand on.

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