British Columbia·Battleground Burnaby

Trans Mountain debate brings bigger-picture issue to Burnaby South byelection

The issue of the pipeline that terminates in the city has long been relevant at the local level — and it's taking on new importance ahead of the byelection in Burnaby South Feb. 25.

Expansion project is of national interest — so how important will it be on Feb. 25?

The Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion project has been a controversial topic since the federal government approved the project in 2016. How will it effect local voters in the Burnaby South byelection? (Trans Mountain)

This story is part of a series called Battleground Burnaby, examining the federal issues at play from a Burnaby-based perspective. It airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition Feb. 11-15 and is produced by Jason D'Souza.


It's an issue that thrust Burnaby into the national spotlight: the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

But the issue of the pipeline that terminates in the city has long been relevant at the local level — and it's taking on new importance ahead of the byelection in Burnaby South Feb. 25.

The federal government initially approved the project in 2016 and announced plans last May to invest $4.5 billion to buy the existing pipeline.

But in August, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval of the project and cast doubt on its completion. 

The expansion would triple the pipeline's capacity and is projected to lead to a seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through Burrard Inlet and berthing at Burnaby's Westridge Marine Terminal, raising environmental concerns about oil spills. 

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists beat drums and sang as they protested Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. last year. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"We've opposed the oil tanker expansion in Burnaby for years," said Kai Nagata, a former Burnaby resident and communications director with the public initiative group Dogwood B.C.

"Ever since the federal government bought it, we've seen that debate really shift both in the riding and across the country."

Nagata said the pipeline — which runs through the riding immediately to the north, Burnaby North-Seymour — isn't a "ballot box issue" for people struggling with day-to-day issues around affordable living, but it's become representative of the bigger picture.

"When people in Burnaby South have so many other priorities, especially affordable housing, the fact that the federal government is spending billions of their tax dollars to try to expand oil infrastructure through the city is definitely rubbing people the wrong way," he said.

"That's where the issue plays into the election."

The Trans Mountain pipeline moves a mix of oil products from Edmonton to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C., for export to Asia.

Source of funding for other programs

Adam Pankratz, a resident of Burnaby South who ran for the federal Liberals in the riding in 2015, agreed that issues like housing and health care are on the forefront of voters' minds — but pointed to the oil industry as the way to pay for it.

"The oil industry and the royalties and taxes that the government receive account for about $15 billion of government revenue, which pays for those programs," he told Renee Filippone, guest host of The Early Edition.

"The importance of this industry to the Canadian economy, and to the government revenue to pay for the type of programs that I and Burnaby citizens want, is absolutely necessary."

Kai Nagata (left) and Adam Pankratz are on opposite sides of the pipeline debate. Both agree, however, that it's representative of larger issues on the minds of Burnaby South voters. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

Pankratz, who's currently an adjunct professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business, is adamantly in favour of the pipeline expansion project.

"Without it, the reality is the Canadian economy just is not going to function, so we need to get the pipeline built," he said.

Despite that, Pankratz said he doesn't believe the pipeline will be a deciding factor in the Feb. 25 byelection.   

"That is certainly where the conversation has gone because it has captured the national media's attention," he said.

'But, locally, there are far more important issues on Burnaby South citizens' minds."

With files from Jason D'Souza and The Early Edition

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