Dix is putting Northern Gateway cards on table well in advance of election
By Markham Hislop
The BC NDP is carefully laying out its plan to kill the Northern Gateway pipeline. The only problem? It has to win next spring’s election first.
Last week, leader Adrian Dix said an NDP government would withdraw federal environmental assessment of the project.
This is a slap in the face of the Stephen Harper government. The Prime Minister and Resources Minister Joe Oliver have said the federal environmental review process must be streamlined. The Tories have made it clear they are not happy with the 4,000 people registered to speak at National Energy Board hearings into Northern Gateway. Nor are they pleased with the years the NEB process can take.
In the March budget the Harper Government reduced the number of departments able to undertake environmental reviews from 40 to three. And it will move to a “one project, one review” policy by recognizing provincial reviews, as long as they meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
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That decision may come back to bite Harper in the keester if the NDP form government in BC. Forget letting the NEB process play out, Harper wants Northern Gateway built. He called access to Asian markets for Canadian oil a “national priority” back in January, which many observers interpret as a not very subtle wink to the Alberta-based energy sector.
The stakes are high for oil sands producers. Production is set to double from 1.5 million barrels a day by 2020. The three big pipeline projects on the drawing board – Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain Express – barely provide enough transportation capacity. Take just one of them out of the equation and that’s a lot of production, and money, lost. Taking away two (both Northern Gateway and Transmountain have West coasts terminals) would be a disaster for the Alberta oil sands.
Dix intends to scupper Harper’s plans by reinstating a provincial environmental review process and withdrawing from a two-year old agreement with the federal government. In 2010, the Liberal government now led by Christy Clark and the National Energy Board signed the Environmental Assessment Equivalency Agreement, which stated that any NEB assessment of a project would be accepted as being equivalent to an assessment under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act.
“Within a week of taking office, we will serve the federal government with 30 days’ notice to terminate the 2010 deal in which the Liberals signed away B.C.’s interests,” says Dix. “British Columbia’s citizens, communities and First Nations must have full confidence that their voices will be heard by Victoria.
“A made in B.C. review will ensure that British Columbia’s economic, social and environmental interests are fully addressed, that B.C.’s powers and responsibilities are properly exercised and that First Nations’ interests are properly recognized within this new process,” says New Democrat environment critic Rob Fleming.
Dix has also convened a panel of legal experts, led by constitutional lawyer Murray Rankin, to assess B.C.’s legal authority and to identify legal options with regard to the pipeline.
The message couldn’t be clearer: If the NDP beats Clark and the Liberals, Northern Gateway is dead.
At this point, eight or nine months before the election, the NDP is way out in front, polling around 50 per cent of decided voters, while the Liberals languish with less than 25 per cent. An NDP win would seem to be a fait accompli.
But, not so fast. As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, a recent Angus Reid poll shows 51 per cent of BC voters are on the fence about Northern Gateway, waiting to see if Clark can negotiate a better deal, with more “fiscal and economic benefits” for the province. That’s a lot of undecided voters.
And if Clark can levy a linear assessment or toll or some other form of tax on Northern Gateway she could create a huge slush fund, perhaps as much as $1.5 billion by my calculations, with which to bribe BC voters. She would have her wedge issue.
In this scenario, all Dix’s careful planning could become a liability. NDP opposition to Northern Gateway is so unflinching, so inflexible, there is no room to maneuver if Clark manages to rally voters with an effective campaign strategy.
What looks like clever political strategy now could blow up in Dix’s face.
For that to happen the Liberals would have to do an about face pretty quickly and that doesn’t appear likely. It seems every week brings a fresh scandal, such as the recent ICBC management pay controversy that has voters up in arms. The political mood in BC is ripe for change.
But it could happen. And if it does, Adrian Dix and the NDP might rue the dog days of summer 2012 when they laid out their carefully constructed plan to kill the Northern Gateway pipeline.