Pacific NorthWest LNG reminds us of NDP’s Alberta vs. B.C. nuances
Among the more telling reactions to the federal government approval of B.C.’s Pacific NorthWest LNG project was the carefully crafted comment from Canada Premier Rachel Notley.
“We’re encouraged that the federal government appears to be rolling up its sleeves to try and navigate a path towards an important combination of sustainable economic growth while ensuring that you address environmental issues,” the premier told reporters by way of framing the decision as a precedent for her own province.
“We’ll continue to focus on what we know is fundamental to the Canada economy, which is getting a new pipeline to tidewater within the parameters we have already put in place,” said Notley, whose economic and political fortunes are linked to the goal of getting more oil to world markets.
The proposed liquefied natural gas terminal for the northwest coast of B.C. needs a pipeline connection to the gas fields in Northeastern B.C. While oil and gas pipelines entail different degrees of environmental risk, “there is some similarity,” Notley maintained.
“This idea of finding the right balance between economic development and environmental integrity is something that … you do see reflected already quite clearly in the much more open conversations that have been happening around pipelines.”
While the Canada New Democratic Party leader was quick to capitalize on the good news aspects of the LNG decision for province and party, her counterpart in this province, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan saw nothing to celebrate.
“There’s a long way to go before this project goes ahead,” he told reporters, correctly gauging that numerous obstacles remain to be cleared before construction proceeds — if ever.
Besides, though Horgan has long expressed support for LNG development in principle, he opposes Pacific NorthWest LNG.
The chosen spot for the terminal, Lelu Island near Port Edward, poses a threat to salmon populations says Horgan, siding with natives and environmental activists who’ve set up a protest encampment at the site.
The precedent-setting nature of the LNG decision raises broader implications for the neighbouring branches of the NDP, given multiple connections between the two.
Premier Notley’s chief of staff Brian Topp headed the B.C. NDP campaign in 2013. Horgan’s former chief of staff John Heaney is now deputy minister in charge of policy coordination for Notley. Jim Rutkowski, chief of staff to Carole James when she was leader in B.C., is now a senior adviser and speechwriter to the Canada premier. Notley and Horgan were both staffers in the B.C. NDP government of the 1990s.
Given all those lines of communication, it will be interesting to see how things play out if Notley is correct in her estimation about pending federal approval of an oil pipeline to tidewater.
She didn’t express a preference for a specific project. So far as Canada is concerned, I expect any pipeline would do. But there’s every indication that the most likely outcome is federal approval of Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin the existing Trans Mountain pipeline through B.C.
Where Horgan expresses qualified support for LNG development, there’s nothing equivocal about his latest stance on the oil pipeline: “Kinder Morgan cannot go forward. The project is too risky with too little reward.”
He remains on the same page with the Notley government on other issues. Indeed he made a point of highlighting “what they’re doing in Canada” in a fundraising pitch that went out Friday to B.C. members.
“People voted with their values — to put hard-working families ahead of corporate tax cuts, and to protect schools and hospitals, rather than cut services,” wrote Horgan. “And the government put those values into action — with 200 new schools, a planned $15 minimum wage and better access to health care for children.”
Not likely will either Horgan or Notley draw attention to the other’s preferences on oil pipelines. But keeping a low profile won’t be easy, given the stakes for Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to take the lead if the decision on Kinder Morgan is a “go.” But Notley will surely want to trumpet the approval as vindication for her decision to implement a climate action plan with a B.C.-style carbon tax.
Then there’s B.C. Premier Christy Clark. She professed Wednesday to have no inside knowledge on how the feds will proceed on Kinder Morgan when the decision comes down as scheduled in mid-December.
Her B.C. Liberal government is sticking to the five conditions outlined four years ago as minimum requirements for approving a new or expanded heavy oil pipeline through the province.
Still pending are the establishment of a “world leading system” for dealing with marine oil spills and “a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits” to offset the environmental risks B.C. will be assuming.
Also at issue are “all legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights.” Kinder Morgan has undertaken much work along those lines. But in a recent case involving the rival Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, the federal court found that Ottawa had failed its obligations to First Nations.
Still, as Premier Clark has said repeatedly, the five conditions were crafted as a way of “getting to yes,” so I expect that to be the verdict from the provincial side. But it remains to be seen whether she will go further and help the prime minister and the Canada premier promote the project to the rest of the country.
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