Edmonton

Pipeline blues: Liberal TMX pipeline purchase does little for voters in Edson, Alta.

There are stacks of giant steel pipes in an Edson industrial yard to be used for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. But there's been no significant project work in the area and that's weighing on residents' minds in this election.

'It’s always in the back of your mind: If it doesn’t go through, what’s the alternative?'

Residents of Edson, Alta. were hopeful that construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline would start in earnest after stacks of steel pipes were delivered to the town, but they say they're still waiting for full construction to begin. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

There are stacks of giant steel pipes in an Edson industrial yard and business owner Paul Lemieux doesn't think they're going to move any time soon.

The pipes were delivered to this town 200 kilometres west of Edmonton to be used in the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline. But months after that delivery — and more than a year after the federal Liberals bought the line for $4.5 billion — there's been no significant project work in the area and that's weighing on the minds of residents in this election.

"I still don't believe it's going to go through. When the pipe starts getting hauled out of the pipe yard, then I'll believe it," said Lemieux, who owns a heavy equipment rental and sales business in Edson.

Paul Lemieux owns an equipment rental and sales company in Edson, Alta. He estimates his business could go up by 20 per cent if construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline starts in earnest. (Laurent Pirot/Radio-Canada)

For an industry town that's felt the full weight of a prolonged economic downturn, the many rises and falls of the Trans Mountain pipeline cause just as many emotions — from anticipation, to fear, to disappointment.

The Liberals' multi-billion dollar lifeline for the project hasn't necessarily won over voters in Yellowhead, the sprawling and staunchly conservative riding that includes Edson, Hinton, Jasper, Drayton Valley, Leduc County and other places. In the 2015 election, Conservative Party candidate Jim Eglinski took more than 70 per cent of the vote in the riding.

"We bought a $4.5 billion pipeline for what reason, I have no idea. I don't think the government can run a pipeline company, I really don't," said Lemieux. 

"You can spend money if it's going ahead. It's like a business, you can spend on something that's going to make you money. But if you're going to spend money just to buy votes, that doesn't work." 

The federal crown agency that owns and operates the pipeline said in August that work to lay pipe through parts of Alberta would start in earnest within a month. Edson is a major staging ground for the construction.

Lemieux estimates his business will pick up by at least 20 per cent if that work truly begins. The ripple effects of that business would be felt throughout the town, with hotels, grocery stores and restaurants all expected to profit. 

"It's stressful. You have the anticipation that it is coming but if it doesn't, what's going to happen?" said Karen Spencer-Miller, co-owner of Century 21 Twin Realty in the town. "It's always in the back of your mind, 'If it doesn't go through, what's the alternative? How will Edson fare?'"

Spencer-Miller thinks the many delays have caused people to lose confidence.

"Regardless of the party we need them to support this project. We need this project to go through. Basically, west of Edmonton, every community right through needs this project to go through." 

Voters will place their votes, she said, for the party they think can get the Trans Mountain pipeline in the ground.

With files from Laurent Pirot

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