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Pipeline opponents score in northern B.C. elections

VANCOUVER — Voter opposition to a controversial Enbridge Inc. oil pipeline project played a key role in determining the composition of councils in B.C.'s northwest in Saturday's municipal elections, as residents brace for a series of important regulatory hearings on the $5.5-billion proposal.
Terrace, Smithers and Prince Rupert, cities which fall near and around the project's intended 1,140-kilometre route, elected candidates who, for the most part, ran on platforms opposing the pipeline.

Mayor-elect Taylor Bachrach of Smithers defeated incumbent Cress Farrow on a campaign focused on a more collaborative style of leadership as well as a commitment to support the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in its fight against the pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta's oilsands to Kitimat, B.C., for shipment by tanker to Asia.
Council candidates were also asked by Smithers residents during an all-candidates debate prior to election night to state their position on the project. Of the 12 running for office, nine stood in opposition, four of whom were later elected to the six-person council.

"It's something that really matters to people; the river and the salmon are really key parts of this region's identity and our quality of life — both for First Nations and non-First Nations," said Bachrach.
"People in our community have some very strong views on this project and so I do think that there is a role for municipal governments in terms of representing their community on issues like this."

Bachrach said he'll discuss the city's official stance on the pipeline with his new council once he's sworn in.
Re-elected Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski also opposed the project during his campaign as did five of the six councillors elected to city hall. Pernarowski, however, said it would be premature for council to offer a definitive position on the pipeline as the regulatory process has yet to conclude.

He also noted that staking a strong position of opposition could send the wrong message to industry in general.
"I still feel personally that the project is showing more risk than benefit for this region," he said. "But as a council member, I feel that it is more important to allow the federally regulated joint review process to proceed."

The proposal, officially titled the Northern Gateway project, is scheduled to go before a series of public and government regulatory hearings beginning in mid-January 2012. The Joint Panel Review (JRP) will be run by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
If approved, the pipeline could transport an estimated 525,000 barrels of crude oil a day, most of which would be shipped from Kitimat to China via supertanker. First Nations and environmental groups have been vocal in their opposition, saying the environmental risks are too great.

"People are afraid," said Prince Rupert Coun. Jennifer Rice, whose opposition to the pipeline formed a part of her election campaign. "We have an obligation to speak up. This is a huge project that will affect us and future generations for a long time to come. We can't sit idly by."
colivier@theprovince.com

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