Pipelines and the Politics of Structure: A Case Study of the Trans Mountain Pipeline
George Hoberg (Liu Faculty, University of British Columbia)
June 2016

This publication is available for download here.

Prepared for delivery at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, May 31-June 2, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta.

Oil sands pipelines have been one of the most divisive issues in Canadian politics during the past decade. This paper uses the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline proposal to illuminate the political dynamics of energy in Canada in the 2010s. The Harper era was characterized by aggressive pressure for resource development, weakening environmental protection, and intensive resistance from environmentalists and First Nations. Like the Northern Gateway Pipeline, Kinder Morgan’s project is also opposed by environmentalists and many First Nations, and municipal governments. In November 2014, on the ground resistance resulted in the arrest of over 100 protesters. Despite the election of the Liberal government in Ottawa and an NDP government in Alberta, controversy continues to rage.

The politics of this pipeline has in large part been “the politics of structure,” or the struggle over defining the institutional rules of the game. Major political, legal, and physical conflicts have erupted over what issues should be under consideration and who gets to decide. This paper will use process tracing and a review of government documents, opinion polls, and media content analysis, to document how this case reveals the larger politics of energy that have characterized Canadian energy and environmental policy in the 2010s.