B.C. Views – Oil a slippery slope for cities

Columnist Tom Fletcher says municipal politicians should discuss municipal issues and leave pipelines alone.

VICTORIA – Every year when B.C.’s municipal politicians get together to preach to the provincial cabinet, there comes a point in the maze of resolutions where things go sideways.

Last year it was a misinformed, impossible demand to ban all traces of genetic engineering. Before that they thumbed their mobile phones and denounced wireless power meters. Both votes passed by narrow margins in a half-empty chamber, with many delegates focused on the serious community issues they are elected to address.

This year it was a charge led by Burnaby to denounce the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion. And this time it was defeated.

Credit for this sudden attack of common sense goes largely to North Cowichan Coun. Al Siebring. Here’s part of his address to the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are elected to handle things like roads and water and sewer and land use, police, fire, garbage. We’re not here to talk about social policy, child poverty or heaven forbid, pipelines.

“Those kinds of things dilute our credibility as an organization. We’re becoming a social policy activist group rather than a group of municipal politicians.

“Half of this resolutions book is stuff that’s outside of our purview…. If you want to do social policy, get your butt elected to the provincial legislature.”

Burnaby, New Westminster, Victoria and Vancouver were undeterred. In tax-rich urban centres one can make a living at local politics. And grandstanding works.

Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow rattled off a jumbled history of refineries in his region, noting that the sole surviving Chevron plant is bringing in crude by trucks and trains because the 60-year-old pipeline is over-subscribed. He didn’t explain how stopping a pipeline upgrade would keep it open, or improve oil safety.

Volkow repeated the protester myth that a new pipeline would introduce diluted bitumen to the coast. Trans Mountain started shipping dilbit in the late 1980s.

Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar and others from along the Interior pipeline route pointed out another flaw. If southern cities want to wander outside their mandate to make this gesture, why target only this pipeline and ignore rail lines and highways that cross the same rivers and streams?

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan boasted that after his first court challenge to the National Energy Board was tossed out, his high-priced eco-lawyer found a constitutional angle. Cha-ching!

Meanwhile, professional protesters bike-lock their necks to the fence at Burnaby’s Westridge oil terminal, and a radical Simon Fraser University professor revives his Occupy Vancouver team to step up the ground war if courts falter.

The comedy of all this was illustrated by Coun. Robin Cherbo from Nelson, who assured delegates he uses synthetic oil in his vehicle. Is that derived from organic sunflowers? And what significance does that gesture have compared with the gasoline and jet fuel that carried 1,200 delegates to Whistler?

Cherbo assumes that Ottawa can simply direct Alberta’s oil industry to start refining all the heavy oil there. Half a century into this industrial mega-project, this stuff should just be banned from pipelines. Peace, man.

This is why election-time posturing by local politicians is a slippery slope. Not only do they lack authority, they and their staff lack the required expertise and information.

The Trans Mountain pipeline starts in Alberta and branches into the U.S. It is by definition federal jurisdiction. NEB hearings on its expansion continue, with expert input, especially on shipping risks, from the B.C. government, Green MLA Andrew Weaver and others.

Municipal politicians should pipe down and defend their own performance.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.

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