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From both ends of the pipeline, Canadians worry about Trans Mountain's future ahead of election

In a special twin town hall from both Leduc, Alta., and Vancouver, Cross Country Checkup asked Canadians what the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion means for their vote.

Cross Country Checkup hosted a special, twin town hall on economic development and climate change

In Leduc, Alta., Checkup heard from oil and gas workers that their livelihoods depend on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Owen Shoemaker/CBC)
Listen1:47:28

On the eve of the federal election, Canadians on both ends of the Trans Mountain pipeline told Cross Country Checkup they're worried about the project's future.

During a special, twin town hall broadcast live from Leduc, Alta., and Vancouver, Checkup heard from oil and gas workers who say their livelihoods depend on growth in the oil sector.

"It's huge to us…. there's so many people who are just waiting to see how the election turns out tomorrow as to whether or not they're going to have a job," said lawyer Arlene Reid from Leduc. 

Both the federal Conservative and Liberal parties have committed to building the pipeline expansion — a project bought by Justin Trudeau's Liberals last year — but the Green Party and NDP both oppose the project.

According to Calgary-based independent pollster Janet Brown, Albertans' election priorities during this campaign are vastly different from those in the rest of Canada.

"In Alberta, it's jobs, economy, pipelines — the same issues that played out during our provincial election in April, Brown said. In her opinion, when you ask Canadians outside the province, the focus is on affordability, health care and climate change.

Kevin Liang in Vancouver, left, told Checkup that he worries about the health effects of climate change. Arlene Reid in Leduc, right, said that job prospects are dwindling in the region. (Samantha Lui/CBC, Owen Shoemaker/CBC)

Audience members in Leduc, already spooked by a slowed economy, told Checkup host Duncan McCue that while they understand concerns over the environment, they're struggling to put food on the table.

Drayton Valley, Alta., in particular has been struck by a downturn, Reid said.

"Our town is suffering," she said. "There's increased foreclosures for homes, for businesses. There's empty buildings of commercial and retail. Population is down."

Reid's husband, who worked in oil and gas for 30 years, was laid off in June. Reid says that since layoffs at his company began in 2014, the office of 16 employees dwindled to three.

"Luckily, we're fairly stable and more mature, I guess. So we're able to handle that. But we don't have young families and we don't have to look for alternate employment at this point," she said.

Chief Leah George-Wilson of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada, told Cross Country Checkup why they're for and against expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline. 11:47

Environment the focus in Vancouver

In Vancouver, the conversation focused largely on environmental concerns and, indeed, a stop to the Trans Mountain expansion.

Retired science teacher Jennifer Nathan, who was arrested in March 2018 during a pipeline protest, told Checkup guest host Michelle Eliot she couldn't support the expansion given climate science.

"I need to honour what the scientists are saying and do everything we can to make sure that we don't go past two degrees," she told the audience, referring to the target set under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Jennifer Nathan, left, told Checkup guest host Michelle Eliot that she believes we need to follow the science on climate change at CBC Vancouver. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Still, she told Eliot she's sympathetic for those struggling in Alberta's oil patch.

"I've lived in communities that have had to transition away — pulp and paper town; near a mining community — and eventually transition becomes part of that community," she said.

University of British Columbia medical student Kevin Liang, who spent time in the oil patch studying the effect job losses have on mental health, echoed Nathan's sentiments.

"I really do feel for them.... and I did see first hand and I see this is why you need a just transition right now because this is the best time for it," he said pointing toward calls that the industry move toward sustainable energy production instead of fossil fuels.

Checkup host Duncan McCue hosted a live audience at the Maclab Centre for the Performing Arts in Leduc, Alta., during an election town hall. (Owen Shoemaker/CBC)

As a medical student, Liang added that he sees this as a major health issue.

"We're framing this pipeline as a question between the economy and the environment, but this is really a health issue," he said. 

"The [World Health Organization] has framed climate change as a health emergency and we need to treat it as a health emergency."

To hear the full conversation, download our podcast or click Listen above.

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