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Kitimat to make Northern Gateway opposition official with vote next week

After a divisive plebiscite that featured last-ditch campaigning from both camps, the District of Kitimat is expected to make its opposition to the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway project official next week.

Council will vote next week on a motion that recommends the district take an official stance against the project, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said Tuesday.

"I would assume that since our citizens have spoken … we will be officially opposed to it," Ms. Monaghan said. "Because that was what our original motion was – that we would go along with the will of the people." In the plebiscite, 58.4 per cent of voters were against the proposal, compared with 41.6 who backed the project. Voter turnout was 62 per cent.

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In taking a stance against the project, Kitimat council would join the neighbouring 1,700-member Haisla Nation, as well as communities such as Terrace and Smithers, that have gone public with their opposition to Northern Gateway, citing predominantly environmental concerns.

Enbridge vice-president Janet Holder has said the company will continue to engage with Kitimat, along with other communities, in an effort to build support.

In Kitimat, meanwhile, the dust is still settling from the plebiscite, which became more high-profile – and involved more money – than many local people had expected.

The plebiscite was held under B.C.'s Community Charter and followed the guidelines for municipal elections, which are not subject to campaign spending limits and have minimal financial disclosure requirements.

People who were 18 years old or older and have lived in the District of Kitimat for at least 30 days immediately preceding voting day were eligible to vote – a less stringent requirement than municipal elections, which require voters to be Canadian citizens and to have lived in B.C. for at least six months before registering to vote.

In the weeks leading up to the April 12 vote, Kitimat residents faced a volley of radio and print advertisements as well as door-to-door campaigning from Enbridge supporters and Douglas Channel Watch, a Kitimat group that raised funds online to support its "vote no" campaign.

Douglas Channel says it spent $14,000 on promotional materials, while Enbridge says it spent close to $10,000 on radio and print advertisements. The district spent about $15,000 to organize and run the process.

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"In hindsight, once we saw where it was going, there might have been things we could have done differently," Phil Germuth, a Kitimat councillor, said on Tuesday. "I had no idea this was going to morph into what it did."

The plebiscite also resulted in considerable tension in the community, he added, making him wonder if council should have voted and acted on the issue on its own rather than take the question to its citizens.

Ms. Monaghan, however, did not second-guess the process, saying she felt it was important for council to seek residents' opinion. " I had said I am remaining neutral until my town tells me what they want," she said.

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