With growing signs the federal government may support an expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says public opposition to the project could soon boil over.
"The temperature is already very hot on this," Robertson told CBC's Chris Hall on The House.
"I think you'll see protests like you've never seen before on this one."
Robertson's warning came just days after federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr gave another indication the federal government may support the contentious proposal.
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Speaking to reporters on Tuesday about the impact of a Trump presidency on Canada's pipeline plans, Carr said the Keystone XL project is no longer a priority for the federal government.
"It doesn't get oil to export markets in Asia," he said.
Winding through Alberta and British Columbia along a 1,150-kilometre route, the Trans Mountain pipeline carries crude oil and refined petroleum from Edmonton to Burnaby.
From there, it can be exported to China and other oil-thirsty markets in Asia.
The federal cabinet has until Dec. 19 to decide whether to approve the expansion, which would triple the pipeline's existing capacity to 890,000 barrels per day.
Stiff resistance from environmental groups and First Nations
The project has already faced stiff resistance from environmental groups across the country, as well as from First Nations and other communities along the pipeline route and on the B.C. coast.
In November 2014, more than 100 people were arrested on Burnaby Mountain after they prevented crews from carrying out drilling and survey work related to the project.
Robertson warned those protests were "just the tip of the iceberg."
"It's a very sensitive issue," he said. "People care about it across all of walks of life."
'People have the right to express their views publicly, and in that regard we will accept and acknowledge that.' - Ian Anderson, Kinder Morgan Canada president
Both Kinder Morgan and local law enforcement officials are already gearing up for another round of protests.
"I'd be naive if I didn't expect that," Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said in October. "Hopefully, it's peaceful. People have the right to express their views publicly, and in that regard we will accept and acknowledge that."
"It's when it goes beyond that that we'll have to be prepared," Anderson added.
Pipeline approval process criticized as a 'sham'
Robertson maintains that a wholesale review of the project is required.
"The National Energy Board process was a sham," he said.
Robertson believes the board failed to consider scientific evidence highlighting the project's risks, as well as the consequences a potential oil spill could have on the region's ecology and economy.
The National Energy Board conditionally approved the expansion in May 2016, issuing a list of 157 conditions to Kinder Morgan. But in response to criticisms that the board's review process was "biased" and "unfair," the federal government tasked a three-member panel to provide further questions for cabinet to consider.
The panel released its report earlier this month, raising questions as to how the expansion would square with other federal commitments on climate change and Canada's relationship with Indigenous people.
While Roberston welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent announcement of a $1.5-billion ocean protection plan after recent oil spills in Bella Bella and English Bay, B.C., he said it will take years for those measures to be fully in place and able to respond to a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic that would result from the pipeline expansion.
"We do need to go back to the drawing board and have a proper process," Robertson said. "To rely on the recommendation of the [NEB] at this point, it would be a travesty."