Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson will travel to Ottawa next week to escalate his fight against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, a challenge to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who faces a bitter interprovincial battle over Alberta's bid for new oil markets.
Mr. Robertson and aboriginal leaders from the Lower Mainland are planning to meet with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and other cabinet members and MPs, and will hold a news conference to press their concerns about Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline project. The proposal would triple the amount of oil-sands bitumen being exported through Vancouver harbour.
The city of Vancouver is also launching a campaign calling on residents to contact their local members of Parliament to voice their views on the controversial, $6.8-billion pipeline expansion, which would provide Alberta's oil industry with greatly desired access to Pacific Rim markets.
"The federal cabinet has got a big decision to make and we want to be sure they hear loud and clear from the West Coast that the Kinder Morgan proposal is a no-go," Mr. Robertson said in a telephone interview Friday. "The risk is the catastrophic impact on our economy and our environment of an oil spill when it happens."
In last fall's election, the Liberals virtually swept the Metro Vancouver region, winning 15 seats. Mr. Trudeau had campaigned on scrapping the environmental review process and subjecting the proposal to a more rigorous test. Instead, he kept the existing system but added consultations and a review of the pipeline's climate impact.
The unyielding opposition from politicians and First Nations in British Columbia represents a major challenge for Mr. Trudeau, who has been criticized in Alberta for not showing more support to the province's battered industry and its need for market diversification.
Premier Rachel Notley spoke to a federal cabinet retreat in her province in April and pitched pipelines as an economic necessity for Alberta, which currently sends virtually all its oil exports to the slow-growth, amply supplied American market.
Mr. Trudeau has said Ottawa should work to ensure the country's resources reach global markets, but only if it can be done in an environmentally sustainable way, and with support of the public and First Nations.
Alberta's export ambitions face major hurdles from an adamant coalition of environmentalists, First Nations and municipal politicians in both British Columbia and Quebec.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre sparked a regional war of words earlier this year when he and his fellow mayors came out in opposition to the proposed Energy East pipeline, which would carry western crude through Ontario and Quebec to a refinery and export terminal in Saint John.
Mr. Robertson's intervention comes just two weeks after the National Energy Board concluded the project would be in the national interest as it would mean increased jobs and add to government revenues. Mr. Carr appointed a three-person panel to carry on further consultations with the B.C. public, including aboriginal communities. It is due to report in November and Mr. Carr says a cabinet decision will follow in December.
In its report, the federal regulator concluded there is a "very low probability" of an oil spill either from tankers or from the pipeline and terminal. But Mr. Robertson said the risk remains too high, and would devastate Vancouver's tourism industry and its reputation as a hub for clean-technology investment.
He shrugged off Alberta's desire for access to new markets for its oil industry. "I'm focusing on ensuring our environment and economy is not put at great risk for the sake of a Texas oil empire, which I think ultimately is where most of this revenue goes," he said in reference to Kinder Morgan's Houston-based ownership.
Squamish Nation hereditary chief Ian Campbell will travel with Mr. Robertson to Ottawa next week, and said the Kinder Morgan decision is a major test for the Liberal government's lofty promises to aboriginal Canadians. The Squamish, the Musqueam First Nation and Tsleil-Waututh are based in the Lower Mainland and all oppose the pipeline.
However, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson echoed the National Energy Board's conclusion that the project would be in the national interest, and said Ottawa should heed the board's advice.
"I think energy and oil and gas are going to continue to be a big part not just Alberta's economy but Canada's economy, even as we transition to a low-carbon future," he said in a telephone interview from Winnipeg, where he and Mr. Robertson were attending a big cities' mayors meeting.