British Columbia

In election's wake, Trans Mountain still looms large in B.C. and beyond

In the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour, the Trans Mountain pipeline was a major issue in the tight contest. Incumbent Terry Beech held on to his seat but a political scientist says the pipeline could remain a political point of contention in a minority Parliament.

Pipeline could be issue for Liberals as they govern from minority position, professor says

Workers walk about outside the Trans Mountain facility on Burnaby Mountain. The Liberals, who purchased the pipeline, are happy to hold on to MP Terry Beech's seat of Burnaby North-Seymour. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Minutes after his re-election was announced to a jubilant crowd of supporters at Joey's Restaurant in Burnaby Monday night, Terry Beech told reporters he gave more than 40 interviews during the 2019 election.

Every one of those interviews, the returning Liberal MP for Burnaby North-Seymour said, meant answering questions about the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The trend continued in the first scrum after his victory speech as reporters pressed him on the project, which Beech acknowledged is "a big issue" in the riding.

"So is affordability, so is fighting climate change, so is growing the economy," he said.

Throughout the campaign Beech had the delicate job of defending the Trans Mountain pipeline, which the Liberal government purchased in 2018 — even though the MP was personally opposed to the $4.5-billion expansion project.

He voted against the project in the House of Commons and he noted Monday night that some members of his campaign team were also opposed to the project.

Liberal MP Terry Beech celebrates his re-election in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour Oct. 21, 2019. The riding is considered ground zero in the Trans Mountain pipeline debate. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Representing his constituents has been a balancing act for Beech, according to Simon Fraser University professor Stewart Prest, and will likely continue to be.

Prest said the project is a major concern in the riding where the diluted bitumen pipeline will terminate at a tank facility on Burrard Inlet.

"It's clearly a place where… It's not an abstract concept about the economy," Prest said. "It's actually in people's backyards, just about."

Terry Beech's constituency office has been the site of protests over the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Prest said it's hard to imagine the Liberal Party walking away from the pipeline.

The Liberals won a minority government Monday night, but will need help from other parties to pass legislation — likely, Prest said, from the New Democrats who are opposed to Trans Mountain.

Voters divided

The pipeline, Prest said, could become a point of tension in the next Parliament.

He says the NDP must decide how much importance it wants to put on the project. Will it become a line in the sand? Or something they can compromise on?

Stewart Prest discusses the nuanced feelings many Canadians have on energy and the environment:

Stewart Prest: Canadians want a government serious about the environment

3 years ago
Duration 0:42
Political science professor adds many voters — in Burnaby, Vancouver and beyond — want better environmental policies but see need for pipelines.

On Tuesday, the day after the votes were counted, the leader of the federal NDP Jagmeet Singh re-stated his opposition to it.

"I have been opposed to Trans Mountain. I will continue to be opposed to it, and I want real action on fighting the climate crisis," Singh said.

Singh's fellow New Democrat and B.C. environment minister George Heyman took a similar tack.

"We intend to continue to do everything we can to ensure that within the law, within our jurisdiction, we protect B.C.'s interests in the environment and the economy," Heyman said at the B.C. Legislature.

A sign outside the Trans Mountain facility on Burnaby Mountain. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

For some voters in the Burnaby Mountain area, the pipeline remains divisive.

"We've had issues with the pipeline once before, couple of years ago," said Brian Cowie, 67. "It's been in my mind for years. Especially when I voted."

"I don't think it's a good thing," Vita Laurino, 64, said "I see it as a risk from the environment point of view."

On the other hand, 64-year-old Ed Lansdowne describes himself as a pro-pipeline Conservative voter.

"Build the thing. Get it over with."

Beech believes those divisions show a need to better communicate with voters.

When asked if he had any plans to change his stance on the project, he replied, "My stance has always been to represent my constituents. I'm going to represent my constituents."

With files from Belle Puri, Rafferty Baker and Tanya Fletcher


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