Q & A

Civil disobedience an option in Trans Mountain pipeline dispute, says Burnaby South MP

The relationship between the Alberta and B.C. governments has been strained in recent weeks as the two sides battle over a proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the coast.

'If the natural resources minister does threaten to use the army ... that's where this is going to go'

Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart says he expects British Columbians are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to stop the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. (Left photo: Trans Mountain, right photo: CBC)

The relationship between the Alberta and B.C. governments has been strained in recent weeks as the two sides battle over a proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

B.C. Premier John Horgan has said his province will restrict increased shipments of Alberta bitumen, while Alberta Premier Rachel Notley insists this province will suspend talks of buying electricity from B.C., arguing the expansion must go ahead for the good of this province — and the country.

Starting in Edmonton, the pipeline route runs southwest through Jasper and Kamloops, ending at Burard Inlet, near the riding of Burnaby-South MP Kennedy Stewart.

Stewart has spoken out against the expansion nearly 100 times in the House of Commons.

And on Monday, he talked to the Calgary Eyeopener to explain why.

Below is an abridged version of that conversation.

Q: What's your argument against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion?

A: Well really, it's my job to do it. Way back in 2011, when I was elected, I was basically called the day after I was elected by Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan. We met four times and he outlined his project and I thought, 'well, I better go to my constituents and see what they think of this.'

I presented the information and actually called every single household in the riding, 40,000 households, and 75 per cent of the people in my riding said they were against this pipeline. So that really set my course for doing what I've done since I was elected.

Q: So you're representing the interest of your constituents in Ottawa, which is what you're elected to do. Where does the national interest come into play on that argument?

A: Well, we see Premier Notley, who I respect very much, is representing her constituents, the people of Alberta, I'm representing my local constituents. We have Premier John Horgan representing the province of British Columbia and, of course, first Stephen Harper and then Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau representing the interests of Canada.

It's my job as one of the 338 members of the House of Commons is to put forward ideas for debate and discussion, and that's what I've been doing.

Q: B.C. Premier John Horgan says he wants to put together a scientific panel to look into the question of whether bitumen can be cleaned up in case of a spill.  We spoke to a federal scientist on this show just a few days ago, who says the question of whether bitumen floats or not has been settled, despite what's going on in B.C. Why does B.C. need more scientific proof?

A: It's nice that one scientist has his or her opinion, but the Royal Society [of Canada] report that came out is a massive document studying this, and they said there is so much uncertainty. Now this is a panel of the top scientists in Canada with the top scientific organization in Canada saying there is so much unknown it would only be prudent for the province of British Columbia to be doing this.

I know the direct impact of spills because, as you know, the current Kinder Morgan pipeline has spilled 40,000 barrels since it was built, a lot of it in my home city of Burnaby, and we know directly what happens when you have bitumen spills in city limits. It's devastating. So, I think Premier Horgan is being prudent and I would wait for a much more broader study. And in fact I asked the prime minister for a study of bitumen through his new science adviser and they refused to do this new study.

Q: What you call prudent, Premier Notley — whom you say you respect — calls a violation of the Constitution, that the development has already been approved by the appropriate federal agencies and the B.C. government is over-reaching its provincial powers. What do you make of that?

A: I would say if the situation was reversed, if the federal government decided to build, say, a nuclear power plant in the middle of Calgary with dump disposal sites for nuclear waste all around the province, and you really had no say in how this was going, I think the people of Alberta would also defend their interests, and I think that's what's happening in British Columbia.

Expansion began along the 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and B.C. in the fall of 2017. It's expected to be complete by 2019. (Trans Mountain/Kinder Morgan)

Q: I'm sorry, sir, did you just liken a pipeline to a nuclear power plant?

A: I think it has the same impacts. There's great uncertainty about the safety of the product, there's also lots of concerns for health, and we've experienced it first-hand in British Columbia. It is more of the process here that is deeply flawed.

Remember, this is 980 kilometres of new pipeline going through new parts of British Columbia. It's a brand new route through my city of Burnaby. It goes through many First Nations reserves, many territories, and remember, these are unceded territories without treaties. Essentially, my work over the last six years has shown there is deep, deep, deep opposition to this pipeline right along the route … and that's basically been ignored through the federal process.

I think if they'd had a more inclusive process, a process where there was more flexibility, things could have been different. But at this point, when you have the natural resources minister threatening to bring in the army to push this through British Columbia, now you're either on one side of the other, and we're in an intractable position.

Q: If British Columbia continues to stall or block this project, are you concerned your province runs the risk of losing good faith in trade negotiations, not just with Alberta, but with the rest of Canada?

A: Alberta is not Russia, it's a democratic society. In Russia, [President Vladimir] Putin can turn gas on and off, can affect local businesses and those types of things. Commerce is going to run its course in Canada, we're a capitalist society and that's how it's going to work. I see this as a lot of bluster that's going on as one side wants a project and one side doesn't want it. I think relations between the provinces will be just fine in the future.

Q: Perhaps I need to ask that question more directly. You're a graduate of the London School of Economics. Do you think it's a good thing for the nation if Alberta continues to sell a nonrenewable resource at a deep discount to the world price because of insufficient access to world markets?

A: That's also a dispute as well, about how deep this discount actually is. But I would say I think Prime Minister Trudeau should be looking for a Plan B. I don't think this pipeline is going to get built and I think this has to be something being considered both in Ottawa and in Alberta.

Q: How far will you go to stop this project?

A: I'll stand with my constituents. In 2014, Kinder Morgan went into one of our conservation areas in Burnaby and cut down trees in the middle of the night. We had thousands of people protesting with 125 people arrested.

Polling shows that many, many thousands of British Columbians are willing to engage in civil disobedience to stop this pipeline, and I think, unfortunately, if the natural resources minister does threaten to use the army and does threaten to use police to push this pipeline through our province, I think that's where this is going to go.

Q: You think the residents of Burnaby, with you at the lead, are going to try to stand in front of the Canadian Armed Forces? Have we got to this point?

A: I didn't say that, but what I do know is polling across British Columbia shows there is deep, deep anger. You saw the prime minister in Nanaimo the other day basically get booed out of a town hall just because of this issue. The opposition to this pipeline is deep, especially in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island, just as it would be in Alberta if this same thing was being attempted by the federal government. I do think the federal government, they can threaten, but we'll see how far they're prepared to go.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener