The final tally, which came after a month of election-style
campaigning in the small town where the pipeline terminal would be
built, was more decisive than expected, with 58.4 percent of
residents voting "no" and 41.6 percent "yes".
While non-binding, Saturday's vote is likely to carry some weight
with Canada's Conservative government, which is expected to decide
in mid-June on the C$7.9 billion ($7.21 billion) project, the first
major conduit for oil sands crude to Asia.
"My view is this sends a huge message. We who stand to benefit the
very most from this project are saying 'no,'" said Patricia Lange, a
member of Douglas Channel Watch, a grassroots environmental group
that opposed the pipeline.
"It's a scar in the neck of the dragon. We might not have sent the
dragon to death, but we are going to continue to battle."
If built, the Northern Gateway pipeline would carry some 525,000
barrels-per-day of crude from Alberta's oil sands across northern
British Columbia to the Kitimat port, where it would be loaded onto
supertankers and shipped to energy-hungry Asia.
That would allow oil producers to sidestep the over-supplied U.S.
Midwest, where Canadian crudes sell at a steep discount to benchmark
prices, and tap directly into foreign markets.
But the proposed project has become a divisive issue in Kitimat and
across Canada's westernmost province of British Columbia. Supporters
say it will bring jobs and prosperity to the region; opponents say
the benefits are not worth the risk of an oil spill along British
Columbia's pristine northern coast.
As with TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the
United States, environmentalists also fear that Northern Gateway
will hasten the development of Canada's oil sands and exacerbate
The plebiscite was meant to gauge support for the project on the
local level in Kitimat, an industrial town of about 10,000 people
built on resource projects like Rio Tinto Alcan's aluminum refinery
and the now-defunct Eurocan paper mill.
"The outcome, of course, was disappointing," said Donny van Dyk,
manager of coastal aboriginal and community relations at Enbridge.
"What we're going to be doing now is continuing our engagement
activities — talking with residents about the project and the
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The 1,177-kilometer (731-mile) pipeline would, Enbridge says, create
about 180 direct, long-term jobs in the town and foster spin
off-work for contractors and suppliers.
Van Dyk also said the company is working to address the 209
technical, environmental and socioeconomic conditions set out by
regulators in December, as part of their recommendation that the
federal government approve the project.
Canada's right-leaning government has long supported Northern
Gateway, citing its potential benefits for the broader economy,
though it has said it will not approve any pipeline project unless
it safe for Canadians and the environment.
As voting wrapped up in Kitimat late on Saturday, residents of the
nearby Haisla Nation, an aboriginal community that has lived in the
Kitimat regions for thousands of years, gathered in a park near the
town's center to await the results.
When the final numbers came out, filtering through the large crowd
in excited murmurs, a loud cheer erupted and the traditional
drummers pounded on their instruments.
Terri Nyce, a member of the Haisla Nation, compared the aboriginal
and non-aboriginal communities working together to try to stop the
pipeline as strands of hair in a braid.
"Each strand alone can be weak, but when you put them together and
you intertwine them — like mind, body and soul — they will never be
broken," she said. "Just like Haisla, just like Kitimat: we're never
going to be broken, we're never going to back down from a big
corporation like Enbridge."
($1 = 1.0954 Canadian dollars)
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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