Danielle Smith: Trans Mountain opponents won’t be swayed

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project's oil storage tank farm is seen in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. Oral submissions continue next week as the National Energy Board considers a motion from Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC, which argues that the City of Burnaby is withholding construction permits for its pipeline. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

If the Kinder Morgan pipeline project isn’t dead yet, it’s on its last legs. The company announced a May 31 deadline on making a decision to move forward or pack it in.

Energy entrepreneur Brett Wilson said all of the players need to get in a room together and not come out until an agreement is reached. I think he’s right, but I wonder if that can happen.

No doubt the opponents are suitably emboldened and it’s hard to imagine anything will happen in the next six weeks to change that.

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If you want to know why B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan doesn’t seem prepared to budge on allowing Kinder Morgan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline, there is one big player who probably has a disproportionate amount of influence on his government: Unifor.

Unifor is a union that represents oil and gas workers at the Parkland (formerly Chevron) refinery in Burnaby. Unifor also represents 300,000 workers across Canada. More importantly, they have deep pockets. The National Post has compiled this handy database where you can search who gives money, how much and to whom.

By searching the database you’ll discover that Kinder Morgan gave $28,888 to the B.C. Liberals in recent elections.

You will also discover Unifor – through its various locals and general funds – has given the B.C. New Democratic Party $539,408.

If there ever was a case to ban union and corporate donations in politics, this is it.

But being that they have such an influence, it is important to know why they are so opposed to building the pipeline. I interviewed Unifor Local 601 president Russ Day, who represents the workers at the refinery.

He made a good point that the union asked for Parkland refinery to have preferred status for crude from Kinder Morgan. They were denied and now fear they are going to have to pay a premium for crude which will get passed on to consumers in the form of higher gas prices. That sounds like a lose-lose proposition for everyone. I wonder if it can be revisited.

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LISTEN: Unifor representative, Russ Day, explains why he is opposed to the pipeline

READ MORE: Kinder Morgan decision to halt pipeline work a ‘devastating’ blow to energy sector: Scheer

The bigger argument seems to boil down to the issue of jobs at refineries versus jobs on pipelines. The first being longterm, the latter being short term. The suggestion seems to be that if we build more pipelines to export bitumen, it will result in fewer jobs for refinery workers.

I am still not certain I fully understand the connection. Is Parkland being shortchanged on supply? No. Is Parkland in a position to expand? No. Are there any other mainland refineries that want to reopen? No. Are there a bunch of refinery projects elsewhere in the country just waiting to be built that can’t get sufficient feedstock? No. If you prevent bitumen from being exported, does that increase the likelihood that anyone would want to build a new refinery? No again.

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Day did say there was a proposal to build a new refinery in Kitimat, B.C. and it would be something Unifor would support. But you’ll recall the Northern Gateway was supposed to be built to Kitimat, until the Liberals killed that project and instituted a ban on tanker traffic on the northern B.C. coast. Why would anyone think British Columbians and the federal Liberals would support a bitumen pipeline under the conditions Unifor proposes?

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More to the point, why would any private company be willing to take the risk of building a refinery – at a minimum cost of $10 billion – having watched the shoddy treatment of Kinder Morgan at the hands of the B.C. NDP, environmental activists, First Nations and union activists in B.C.

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As much as I’d like to believe that Unifor is acting in good faith to create more jobs in the oil and gas sector, it seems more likely a convenient dodge. It allows them to say they are opposing it to create more Canadian jobs, without having to own up to the fact that those refinery jobs don’t exist and never will. Neither will the pipeline jobs. And we will all be poorer for it.

Danielle Smith can be reached at


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