BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark visited Burnaby's election battlegrounds on Wednesday to talk about clean-energy jobs, but sidestepped the contentious Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion debate that is expected to influence voters who live in the shadow of the company's marine terminal.
The BC Liberals have said "yes" to the pipeline project that will result in 34 oil tankers leaving the Burnaby docks on Burrard Inlet each month – a seven-fold increase over current traffic – while the rival New Democratic Party and the BC Greens both oppose the project which is scheduled to begin construction later this year.
Promoting resource development is a central plank in Ms. Clark's re-election plan, a point underscored by the matching ball caps worn by her campaign workers that urge B.C. to "Get to yes."
The fate of Kinder Morgan was seen as a deciding factor in the 2013 campaign, when the NDP flip-flopped and came out against the proposal, and the party is again pledging to kill it if elected.
Just seven kilometres from the Kinder Morgan terminal, Ms. Clark toured a high-tech startup, General Fusion, where she touted the clean-energy potential of the company's development of components for a fusion power plant.
Standing in front of a magnetized target fusion generator, she told reporters the Liberals want to build Silicon Valley North in B.C. "What you see behind me has the potential to really change the world because of the way they produce energy."
But Ms. Clark was reluctant to talk about the jobs that will come to Burnaby with the oil-pipeline expansion. "The Trudeau government approved Kinder Morgan, it was their job to approve it," she said when asked about the impact her support for the project will have on Burnaby voters. "My job, knowing it would likely get approved by the federal government, was to fight for what British Columbia deserved."
The BC Liberal government agreed in January to support Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion project after the federal government promised enhanced marine oil-spill response investments, and the company pledged to make annual payments that could be worth as much as $1-billion over the life of the 20-year deal.
George Heyman, the NDP's environment critic, said on Wednesday a New Democrat government would use every legal tool at its disposal to toss a wrench in the works. But he acknowledged there is no guarantee the province would be able to kill the project at this stage, now that Ottawa has given the project a green light.
"I can't promise a result, I will promise we will do everything we can," Mr. Heyman said in an interview. If the NDP form government on May 9, he said the first call that a premier-elect John Horgan would make would be to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to inform Ottawa that B.C. does not consent to the pipeline construction.
That would create tension between B.C. and Ottawa, but it would also strain relations with Alberta's NDP government as well.
Although NDP staff frequently help out in campaigns in other provinces, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has told her staff they cannot work for her and also help Mr. Horgan's team because of their irreconcilable differences over the pipeline. The Alberta government has vowed to get Alberta oil to tidewater, and it has promised to seek intervenor status on any legal challenges to the Trans Mountain expansion project. That could, if the NDP win in B.C., pit the two governments against each other in court.
But first, the New Democrats would have to win the election, and voters in the four swing ridings in Burnaby can expect to be showered with attention by all three parties in this campaign.
Burnaby has been at the epicentre of protests against the project, and the BC Liberals could face a backlash here for supporting the project. However, if opponents of Kinder Morgan split their votes between the NDP and Green candidates, that may benefit the Liberals.
Liberal candidate Steve Darling, who is courting voters in the Burnaby-Lougheed riding that includes the Westbridge Marine Terminal, acknowledged the pipeline debate is alive when he is canvassing for votes.
"It doesn't come up as often as people would think," he said. "But people are concerned about it. I think there is a lot of misinformation out there. … What I have said on all the doorsteps is, Justin Trudeau approved it, the Premier came up with a plan to protect it and now my job, as potentially the MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, is to make sure they abide by everything they've agreed to."