Rachel Notley makes the Great Canadian Pro-Pipeline Road Trip

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Kinder Morgan's Ian Anderson all appealed to the national identity as they spoke to a business audience in Vancouver. It's a message that's not convincing to everyone.

'Can't spend the next 10 years bickering over this,' but not everyone buys her national-interest pitch

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley brought her pro-pipeline to Vancouver, where she was met by protesters. (CBC)

After speeches in Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's pro-pipeline trip arrived in Vancouver at a particularly fraught moment.

Trans Mountain pipeline construction is on pause while Kinder Morgan Canada and the City of Burnaby are locked in dispute over when the city will issue the required permits. Kinder Morgan says Burnaby is stalling, Burnaby said it's acting in good faith.

The federal government intervened in the fight Wednesday, suggesting the National Energy Board strike a panel that will deal with provincial and municipal disputes around the pipeline expansion, which in turn annoyed B.C.'s NDP government.

That was the atmosphere that Notley, federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Kinder Morgan Canada's chief executive Ian Anderson faced Thursday morning as they spoke at an energy conference put on by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, with the very clear intent of changing some minds on the project.

Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson pauses while speaking during the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade's annual Energy Forum in Vancouver on Thursday. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Pitching the national interest

It was a friendly crowd of around 350, with Alberta well represented. There were LNG proponents and other energy players, along with a sizable contingent from B.C.'s trade unions.

It was mostly an audience with a stake in the pipeline or in the resource industry in general, with the exception of the two protestors who bought a ticket and suited up to make their opposition known before being escorted from the room. 

A protester interrupts an address by federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr during the forum. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The crowd may have been largely in favour of the pipeline expansion, but they still got an earful.

Notley noted the close ties between the two provinces before pointing out that the direct flight from Kamloops to Fort McMurray was not for vacation travel, but for fly-in workers from B.C. Notley cited the 44,000 B.C. residents who pay tax in the province on income that they earn in Alberta.

She reminded them that the average resident of British Columbia sends $886 to Ottawa via federal transfer payments and the average Albertan sends more than $5,000. She raised the construction of 14-kilometre jet fuel pipeline between the Fraser River and the Vancouver airport that carries U.S. and Asian jet fuel. 

"If we can build pipelines that move U.S. and Asian energy products around the Lower Mainland, surely we can build them to move Canadian energy products that benefit all Canadians," she said.

A small but noisy group also turned up outside the forum to protest pipelines as Premier Rachel Notley travelled to B.C. to make her pipeline pitch. (CBC)

Across the country, Notley has been making the national-interest pitch, but in Vancouver, which bears much of the risk for Trans Mountain, she wanted the message to land.

"A trans-provincial pipeline going to a port that serves the whole country is a matter of national interest," Notley told reporters after the speech.

"And in that case we need to be able to act as a nation, and we need to be able to act with the strategic sensibilities that entails. We just can't spend the next 10 years bickering over this."

The question is whether that argument is convincing in B.C., where public opinion matters more than on Bay Street or at the Economic Club of Canada.

Opinion on Trans Mountain in the Lower Mainland of B.C. is mixed, according to Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of Canada.

"All the public opinion polling that we've done and we've read will indicate that there's a silent majority of British Columbians that support the pipeline," said Gardner. "But it is a silent majority, it's folks who are supportive, but not engaged in the political process."

Gardner says, though, that the silent majority is a small one and the closer you get to the actual pipeline route, the more opposition you see. That's why he thinks Notley and Carr visited, to shore up that support.

Notley thinks her message is landing. Soon after she told the federal government to step up, Carr landed on the agenda for the meeting in Vancouver and intervened in the dispute between Kinder Morgan and Burnaby.

Premier Rachel Notley got a standing ovation after her pipeline pitch to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. (CBC)

"I think every little bit counts," she said.

"We're here to talk to our neighbours in B.C., as Canadians to other Canadians," Notley said in an interview with CBC News.

"And we are getting some really good feedback, so we're just going to keep at it. Yes, the decision has been made and yes, it's ultimately up to the courts, but I think it's also important to talk to folks about why this matters and why we want to do it."

Spill would be a 'national tragedy'

Not everyone is buying.

At least one union has concerns about how labour is being contracted and a group of independent business owners called Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED) said it has done the math and found the economic benefit from the job creation is outweighed by the risk to the tourism industry along the West Coast.

Felicity Lawong, who works with CRED, isn't buying the national-interest argument.

"Look at the environmental risk. If there was a spill, it would be devastating and it would be a national tragedy as well, not just a local one."


Tracy Johnson

Business reporter

Tracy Johnson is the executive producer of CBC's western digital business unit. She's been a business reporter/producer with CBC on radio, television and online for 15 years. @tracyjohnsoncbc