TERRACE, B.C. - B.C. Energy Minister Rich Coleman has criticized Terrace city council for its decision to oppose the $5.5 billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline.
Coleman said Wednesday he can't tell municipal politicians what to do, but he prefers local politicians to follow the B.C. government and hold off on taking a stand on the controversial project until the completion of federal environmental review hearings in 2013.
"We've said all along, the premier's said all along, we're going to wait for that (joint review panel) process. I think some of these other jurisdictions should do the same," he said.
Coleman said he believes it's important to let the federal review process play itself out before deciding whether or not to support the Enbridge Inc., (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway project.
More than 60 B.C. First Nations and aboriginal organizations have signed a declaration opposing the plan to build a 1,177-kilometre twin pipeline from Alberta to the northwest B.C. port of Kitimat, where huge oil tankers will ship oil to Asia and the United States.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities also voted against the oil pipeline at their meeting last fall. Terrace announced its opposition at a council meeting earlier this week.
"You've got to wait until you hear it all," said Coleman. "This is an important project for Canada, everybody knows that, and through this process there could be tweaks and changes that would actually allay people's concerns that may be out there."
Terrace councillors voted 5-2 Monday to oppose the pipeline, saying the project may be good for Ottawa and Alberta, but leaves Terrace, Kitimat and the surrounding communities with few benefits and most of the environmental risk.
The Terrace area's New Democrat MLA said Terrace council has shown leadership on a difficult issue and he expects other area councils to take similar action.
"It's essentially what people have been saying: We hold all the risk and Alberta gets all the benefits," Skeena MLA Robin Austin said.
But so far, Terrace is on its own in the northwest, with councils in the neighbouring cities of Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Smithers deciding to hold off on taking a position on Northern Gateway until after the review process.
Former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley has taken on the job of promoting the pipeline in the region.
Austin urged the B.C. Liberals to state their position on Northern Gateway, saying Alberta is actively lobbying to ensure its interests are fully represented in Ottawa and before the review hearings.
"It's absolutely incredible to think the government of Alberta is actually involved as an interveners, working in the interest of their citizens and our government is nowhere to be seen on this issue," Austin said.
"I don't know what's going on with the B.C. Liberals," he said. "It's time that they came out and took a position and defended what they believe are the interests of British Columbians."
Terrace Mayor Dave Pernarowski, who says he personally doesn't support Northern Gateway, was one of two council members who voted against the motion to oppose the pipeline, arguing that Terrace should wait for the review process to conclude.
He said he now sees his job as working to ensure investors consider Terrace open for business, just not the oil pipeline business.
Terrace businessman Steve Smyth said the pipeline doesn't run through the city and there was no reason for council to publicly declare its opposition.
"It sends the entirely wrong message to the investment community," he said.
Enbridge, which has been working to sign 10-per-cent equity stake agreements with the estimated 43 First Nations along the pipeline's Alberta-to-B.C. route, could not be reached for comment.
Enbridge officials say they have up to 10 equity agreements with B.C. First Nations, but so far, only two First Nations who have publicly declared deals, with one being rescinded and the second under review.