Smithers Councillor, Phil Brienesse tabled a motion last Tuesday night for town council to oppose the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
During last falls municipal election, the $5.5 billion project was a major issue for voters. Two weeks before the elections, council voted not to take a position on the project, but rather wait for the Federal Joint Review Panel to render its decision on the matter. After much discussion and debate during Tuesday’s meeting, council once again voted 4-3 to defer a motion until after the JRP submits its findings to the federal government.
It was clear that the packed gallery of Smithers’ residents were not impressed with how councillors handled the situation. One member in the gallery uttered an expletive as he left the chambers.
Councillors attempted to amend the motion to better represent the majority of Smithereens, however, after Councillor Frank Wray made his motion to table, Brienesse’s motion to oppose the project was turned down.
Most councillors personally oppose the project, though some believe their personal views are irrelevant and feel that council’s decision on the matter should not influence other elected bodies, such as the JRP, until they have completed their review of Enbridge’s proposal. Though this has some questioning whether or not the JRP will even recognize the town’s decision after the review has concluded.
“I was disappointed with the outcome,” Brienesse said. “Both councillors Adomeit and Wray said they were going to support the motion, which I think people expected from them, because during the election they said they were in opposition to Enbridge.”
Mayor Taylor Bachrach said now council has been left with the decision about whether they want to speak up and contribute to the JRP process.
“I’m deeply disappointed in the outcome of the meeting, and in the use of a tabling motion to avoid the dealing with the issue at hand,” Bachrach said. “Meeting with the Wet’suwet’en today [Jan.26], they are clearly disappointed in the Town’s lack of leadership on this issue.”
During the debate each councillor spoke about their views on the project. Councillor Adomeit mentioned that he personally opposes the pipeline because of the legacy it would leave for his grandchildren.
Councillor Bill Goodacre spoke to the potential dangers a pipeline would bring to the sensitive ecosystem along the route.
Councillor Mark Bandstra talked about the overwhelming potential for economic growth that the pipeline would generate, not only here at home but across the country.
“I don’t live in fear, though, of an accident,” Bandstra said. “I have more confidence and faith in the system and in business. I also think it’s of national interest. So we also have to allow for development. I think there are some citizens that would like to see us take a stand against it. There’s also citizens that would like to see us take a stand for it. And that’s where my comments came in where, we have to be very careful in our community, we’ve got such a great community, we have to allow for diverse opinions and be respectful.”
Councillor Wray however, spoke at length about the “struggles” he’s had with the issue and said as facts continue to come out of the JRP, perhaps there will be a more appropriate time for council to make a decision.
“It’s one of those things that as more information comes out it may become more clear on whether it is an appropriate time or not, but I just felt, knowing what I knew, or thought I knew about the JRP process, that it wasn’t appropriate for us to make a comment at this time,” said Wray.
“As with any decision if more information comes out that makes it more clear one way or the other, weather it’s appropriate or not, of course council is always free to revisit a decision if further information comes out that would change things.”
Many of Smithers’ citizens definitely have their opinions on the subject, and as Councillor Charlie Northrup explained, everyone is going to see and understand the project from a multitude of perspectives.
“Each person will look at it differently and see the risks differently. And maybe through this whole process we’re going to have more people involved in finding more out about it,” said Northrup. “The hearing process has certainly brought Northern British Columbia to the light and made people aware of what’s here. It’s happening, and we’re able to piggy-back that with what’s going on in the United States and the rejection of a pipeline. So I think that that’s important.”
Although there may be plenty of information already out there about the proposed pipeline, Councillor Brienesse would still like to see other councillors paying closer attention to what information is already available, which will be the defining factor if and when the motion to support or oppose Enbridge comes back to the table.
“I think [Wray] is under the misunderstanding that when that process is complete that we then can provide some sort of input. Fact is, that the way the JRP works is, once they’re complete they’re going to do a report to the federal government… and at that point it will be far too late, and we will have missed our opportunity as a community.”