Kwantlen Polytechnic University academic vice-president Salvador Ferreras said he had no ethical qualms about signing a benefits agreement with Kinder Morgan that will bring $300,000 to the institution over 20 years if the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is approved.
“None at all,” he said, adding the decision was about putting the interests of students first. “We as a university do not have a position on the Trans Mountain pipeline at all.”
The deal unveiled Tuesday at KPU’s Langley campus is the latest in Trans Mountain’s efforts to conclude benefit deals with local cities and post-secondary institutions in the name of delivering “legacies” with the project but also demonstrating local support.
Each new deal adds more local projects and funding that hinge on whether the new pipeline is ultimately approved.
The $300,000 earmarked for Kwantlen consists mainly of scholarships and bursaries for KPU trades and technology students, and to help fund KPU’s Environmental Protection Technology lab, which the company may gain naming rights over.
“We see this as an added opportunity for those students,” Ferreras said. “Our environmental protection technology students would be working on these types of projects anyway. This is one of their career paths. We feel we should be giving the opportunity to those students who need those chances.”
He said KPU is willing to organize a formal dialogue about the issue if students or faculty are upset about the agreement.
Trans Mountain project officials said the KPU money is primarily a benefits legacy, but add it’s conceivable some students benefitting from scholarships could go through a program there in time to work on the project.
Kinder Morgan spokesperson Lizette Parsons Bell defended the KPU partnership when asked if it could be seen as co-opting the school or its students.
She noted Trans Mountain has worked with UBC’s engineering department for more than 15 years.
“Businesses have partnered with educational institutions for probably as long as educational institutions have been around,” Parsons Bell said.
“It’s just another way to provide legacies for those communities in which you operate.”
Thompson Rivers University also signed an agreement in April for $500,000 in contributions.
Parsons Bell confirmed Trans Mountain has had “conversations” with officials at the University of the Fraser Valley and Simon Fraser University, but could not provide the status of any talks.
Talks are also underway and in varying degrees of progress with Lower Mainland cities along the pipeline route – Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley Township, Surrey and Coquitlam – with the exception of Burnaby, which has refused to talk to the company.
The most advanced was Chilliwack, where city council last month voted to defer signing off on a deal that would have seen Trans Mountain contribute $800,000 for a pedestrian walkway. Council there now intends to wait for a final recommendation on the pipeline twinning from the National Energy Board.
Critics had argued that offer had the appearance of a “bribe” because Chilliwack had not yet filed its comments on the project to the NEB.
Kinder Morgan has benefit deals worth $5 million with 18 other municipalities along the pipeline route from Hope to northern Alberta. Money promised would go to various local improvements, such as parks, trails and water system upgrades.
The agreements are all contingent on the project getting NEB approval.
Parsons Bell denied the company is pressing for early agreements to help neuter public opposition to the pipeline as the NEB process nears the oral hearing stage.
She said doing deals early helps the company plan and potentially arrange to have pipeline project workers do the local improvements while they’re in the area.
Trans Mountain pipeline project spokesperson Lizette Parsons Bell meets an Australian stick bug that resides at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Plant Health and Urban Ecosystem Lab in Langley. Jeff Nagel photo