Kitimat District Council voted Monday night, Jan. 16, 2012, to hold some sort of poll or vote to find out whether the community supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. The timeline of the project and how the poll would be conducted were unclear after the vote.
Rookie councillor Phil Germuth had filed a notice of motion proposing that the “District of Kitimat put out a survey to residents asking them for their opinion on the Enbridge project.”
A proposed survey Germuth circulated had this a preamble that said:
As this project has generated much discussion and public awareness I feel it would be beneficial to council to know what the will of the people is. If the public is anywhere 50-50 on this then council’s position to remain neutral would be justified. However. if the public opinion is in the range of 65-35, be it for or against the project, then council may consider changing our stance.
The previous council had voted to remain strictly neutral on the controversial project.
A sample survey contained six questions that would ask if people supported the pipeline, the super tanker port, whether or not Kitimat residents would support the project if they received royalties and what environmental precautions would be wanted if the pipeline project was approved. Two questions concerned natural resources policy, whether or not bitumen should be refined in Alberta and whether Canada should process its own natural resources.
How the poll would be conducted was unclear from Germuth’s proposal. His preferred choice was a double envelope mail ballot, similar to the one used in BC’s HST referendum. He noted that a professional survey carried out by a major polling firm would be too expensive and an internet survey would be unreliable.
After the motion was moved and seconded, Councillor Mario Feldhoff immediately proposed an amendment calling for the survey to be carried out after “after the completion of the JRP process.” Feldhoff argued that Kitimat residents should be able to decision once all the evidence had been presented to the panel reviewing the project.
At this point, Councillor Rob Goffinet began asking when exactly the Joint Review Process would be completed.
Did the councillors mean once all evidence was heard, after final arguments or as the JRP report was being presented to the federal cabinet.
That question is key, since the Joint Review Panel changed the rules of procedure on January 4, 2012, a decision that has caused confusion every day of the hearings so far. The panel has split the hearing process in two, unlike the LNG hearings last June. Chair Sheila Leggett now calls testimony by intervenors “community hearings,” and is restricted to “personal experience.” Any questioning of witnesses is postponed until a round of final arguments.
Feldhoff’s amendment was adopted, but without any clarification of what the motion meant by “completion of the JRP Process.” Council then voted for the motion to hold the poll.
There is more uncertainty now surrounding how the Joint Review Panel is proceeding, the rules have already changed once. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is still threatening to stop certain groups, with US funding support, from participation in the review process, although how he could do that and leave the panel with any credibility and independence is also uncertain.
Any attempt by Harper and his government to block people or groups appearing before the JRP may result in a court challenge, which might delay the “completion” even further, contrary to the wishes of the government and the oil patch.
That means the date of any poll in Kitimat would also be uncertain.
Germuth argued repeatedly that is likely that the majority of people in Kitimat have already made up their minds.