Kitimat residents are going to the polls this month to give their opinions on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, but Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen believes the non-binding referendum has been "heavily tainted."
"Traditionally whenever you fight an election in Canada, money is a factor," Cullen said. "You want to push back against big money in politics and unfortunately this vote is heavily tainted by Enbridge's money."
The District of Kitimat council is asking residents if they support the recommendations from the federal Joint Review Panel that the Northern Gateway pipeline be approved with 209 conditions. Council will then use the results to get an idea of where public opinion in the coastal community stands.
Early voting has already begun and general voting will take place on April 12.
Northern Gateway is seeking to build an export facility in Kitimat, which would be the western terminus of a heavy oil pipeline from northern Alberta. Although the environmental assessment panel give the project conditional approval, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq and her cabinet colleagues have yet to weigh in with their final decision.
Cullen said he's worried that Northern Gateway is spending too much money to promote its case in the Kitimat plebiscite.
"I'm very worried that there are no spending limits at all and that people who are have been living in Kitimat for weeks are able to cast a ballot on this thing, a decision that's going to last a generation," he said.
Northern Gateway spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht defended his company's involvement in the municipal campaign.
"We are proud of our community outreach efforts here in Kitimat - those that are focused on the upcoming plebiscite and the extensive outreach that's already been happening over the last decade," he said. "We've had an office here for several years already that employs full-time, local staff who are longtime residents of Kitimat."
As part of its message in favour of the project, the pipeline company is emphasizing the jobs that would be created at the export facility.
"I'd be surprised to learn of anyone that doesn't think 180 long-term, stable jobs for a community of this size isn't a significant boost to the local economy," he said.
Cullen, who has been a vocal opponent of the project, will be in Kitimat on Friday to make his case to potential voters.
"It's David and Goliath again, but we've seen those scenarios before and it doesn't always end well for Goliath," Cullen said.