Kinder Morgan should train local workers: editorial

By Korie Marshall

I am neither for nor against pipelines. It seems to me that, although not perfectly safe, if properly maintained, they are probably safer than other methods of transportation like rail and highways.

But I see pipeline companies trying to hit us over the head with promises of the potential economic benefits of their projects – taxes to the governments; employment, contracting and selling opportunities, though mostly temporary; ways they can “invest” in our communities, without costing them too much.

At the meeting in Valemount in November, Kinder Morgan representatives were asked by our community if they would consider investing in training local people for the jobs they expect to need if the Trans Mountain expansion is approved. They said no, because they don’t know for sure if the project will happen. And yet, they point out that the entire industry is worried there won’t be enough skilled workers to build the projects they are hoping for. Marjorie Knorr from Kinder Morgan told us she heard estimates about the number of industrial electricians available – that if no new projects occur in the next five years, there still won’t be enough electricians to do all the work.

I’d say that’s a problem. If Kinder Morgan hopes to start work in less than three years, we already don’t have time to train people for some of the required jobs. That means they will need to bring in skilled workers, and if there are not enough people in Canada then what? Either requirements will need to be relaxed – which could mean safety issues for the projects – or they will bring in foreign workers. And the jobs our governments claim these projects will bring? We’ll pass them out of the country, just like the product we’re shipping in the pipelines.

I understand the reasoning behind that massive number the Canadian Chamber of Commerce came up with about how much it is “costing” Canada because we can’t ship our oil to international markets. But saying it is “costing” us might be misleading. It is not coming out of our pockets; it is just not going into them. But there are other costs: environmental costs from the extraction and processing, as well as the downstream uses of oil; societal costs, from boom and bust industries that shift communities around and keep young people away from their families and used to incomes that are unrealistic in other industries; and costs to our future, when those jobs are no longer available and the resource is depleted, and we’ve destroyed much of our environment.

If it is true that Kinder Morgan and other companies are terrified they won’t have the people to build their projects if approved, why aren’t they doing something about it? I can understand that a company doesn’t want to commit money to train people they may never employ, but that risk can be spread between a number of companies that are hoping for the same things. Knorr told us at the meeting that governments recognize shortages in trades training, and she expects there will soon be money put into remedying that situation. I’ve said before that I don’t want the federal government spending tax money to ensure the safety of pipelines – the pipeline users and owners should be paying for it. And again, maybe it should be the companies who need workers that pay for training, not our tax dollars.

I know big companies and the extremely wealthy like Richard Kinder whose net worth is over $8 billion are going to try to get the most out of their money. They are good at it. But I believe government should require them to do good things for the country as well. If our resource is really that valuable, we should not so easily sell ourselves out.

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