Skip to main content

Gregor Robertson comments on the decision by the National Energy Board on the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline in Vancouver on May 19, 2016.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and First Nations leaders are urging the federal government to say no to Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, as it faces pressure from Alberta to approve a pipeline project.

Mr. Robertson and leaders from the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations met with federal leaders in Ottawa on Tuesday to campaign against the $6.8-billion expansion project, on which the government is set to make a decision by the end of this year.

"The chiefs and I are here together today with one goal: to tell the federal government that an expanded Kinder Morgan pipeline is not in Vancouver's or Canada's environmental or economic interest. And that they should say a definite no to the project later this year," Mr. Robertson said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline project would triple the amount of Alberta crude the current pipeline can transfer to the West Coast by adding nearly 1,000 kilometres of new pipe between Edmonton and Vancouver.

Mr. Robertson said the project would increase tanker traffic in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet seven-fold, leading to major environmental and economic damage if there is an oil spill and threatening hundreds of jobs in tourism, construction, development and the green economy.

"We need to make sure that the thousands of jobs being created every year in Vancouver continue and are not put at risk by Vancouver turning into an oil port and potential catastrophe with an oil spill in our harbour," he said.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister Tuesday, Mr. Robertson said a "heavy oil pipeline expansion" goes against Canada's global environmental commitments, including those made at last year's climate-change conference in Paris to transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy.

Backing Mr. Robertson, Squamish First Nation Chief Ian Campbell also warned that First Nations will "utilize every opportunity to challenge" the Trans Mountain project.

The mayor and First Nations leaders' trip to Ottawa comes as Alberta presses the federal government to approve a pipeline so that it can get the province's oil sands products to more lucrative markets.

The regional battle has resulted in a spat between Mr. Robertson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who accused his Vancouver counterpart of fear-mongering in saying that the Trans Mountain project could put "hundreds of jobs at risk" and would primarily benefit Texas-based oil giant Kinder Morgan.

"It's probably not helpful to scare people using numbers completely out of context or based on no facts at all," Mr. Nenshi said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Monday. "I say let the regulator do its job. This kind of political interference is not in fact helpful."

Mr. Robertson bit back against Mr. Nenshi on Tuesday, saying his comments were not helpful either.

He said he is in Ottawa to make sure that the concerns of Vancouver residents, First Nations and businesses are understood. "Alberta does a great job of communicating their economic interests. They've had massive influence in Ottawa over the last decade and it's important that the rest of the country, our concerns and our successes are communicated," he said.

The city of Vancouver is also launching a campaign asking residents to contact their MPs to express their concerns. The Liberals won 15 of the 23 seats in B.C.'s Lower Mainland in last year's federal election.

After an 18-month review process, the National Energy Board concluded that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is in the national interest and that the probability of a spill is "very low." The NEB recommended that the federal cabinet approve it, subject to 157 conditions.

Echoing concerns from Mr. Robertson on Tuesday, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she plans to take the NEB to court over what she called a "sham" of an approval process. For instance, Ms. May, who participated in the NEB process as an intervenor, criticized the board for preventing intervenors from cross-examining witnesses.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has extended consultations by appointing a three-person panel to hear from B.C. residents. The minister promises to make a decision by Dec. 19.

Mr. Carr, who met with Mr. Robertson and the First Nations chiefs on Tuesday morning, said the government is carefully considering all opinions ahead of its decision on Trans Mountain. However, he acknowledged the fact that the government will not be able to satisfy everyone in its decision.

"There are people who will be happy, people who will be less happy. We're going through a process that we think is fair and during which people will have a right to say what's on their mind. And we'll be accountable for the decision we make," Mr. Carr said.

Conservative environment critic Ed Fast, whose party has long supported the Kinder Morgan project, accused Mr. Robertson of basing his opposition to the pipeline on "ideology" instead of the NEB's review process.

"What Mayor Robertson is suggesting is that the only process that he'll accept is a no, and that's unacceptable because that's simply based on ideology, not on science," Mr. Fast said.

On the other hand, NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen said any attempt by the Liberal government to "ram this pipeline through" would be a massive setback for its relationship with Vancouver, British Columbia and First Nations across Canada.

With a report from Shawn McCarthy

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the federal Liberals won 15 of 16 ridings in the Lower Mainland in last fall's election. In fact, the party won 15 of the Vancouver region's 23 ridings.