Harper push for pipelines likely to backfire


Harper push for pipelines likely to backfire

Is the Conservative government deliberately trying to manufacture dissent against proposed pipelines to bring Alberta oil to the B.C. coast?

It's hard to imagine another explanation for the heavy-handed way Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver are trying to bulldoze opposition to the two proposals now on the table to trans-port bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to markets offshore.

What started as a verbal barrage this year is now being backed up by legal tools that will give the federal government the final word on whether Enbridge's $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline and marine terminal and the proposed $5-billion twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver will go ahead, regardless of what the National Energy Board decides.

Harper has made it clear he considers a connection to the Asian market a crucial part of Canada's economic future. He quite reasonably believes it is vital for Alberta producers to gain access to more than just the U.S. market, where, coincidentally there is now a glut of crude, driving down the price being paid for Canadian exports.

So the decision to give cabinet the final word on projects deemed to be in the national interest - when Harper has already declared oil pipelines through British Columbia fall in that category - has rendered the assessment process now started almost moot.

To pound home the point about how little the Harper government cares about opposition to these pipelines, Oliver said recently that people and groups who don't live or work near the project or who don't have a specific expertise shouldn't be allowed to participate in environmental review hearings.

Since both Oliver and Harper have called opponents of the Northern Gateway line "radical" and accused them of working against the national interest, this latest restriction may not mean much in terms of whether it gets a regulatory green light from Ottawa.

But it is another slap in the face for British Columbians who have legitimate concerns about the prospect of a nasty form of crude oil being delivered through pristine hinterland wilderness and loaded onto mammoth tankers.

I have said before I think it may be possible to address some of these concerns with systems that reduce risks to a level that will be justified by the benefits.

But the message out of Ottawa is that the government isn't all that concerned about the environment. The message is that its primary concern is making sure that nothing stands in the way of the development of the oilsands.

The problem with the threat of an over-ride is it casts every other move the government is making to streamline the process - regardless of whether it has another rationale - as part of the headlong rush to get the pipelines built.

That includes the time limits on the process, the reduction of federal departments involved in environ-mental assessments and even a limit on who can appear before an environ-mental review board.

The decision to close B.C.'s command centre for oil spills and move the operations to Quebec further undermines any claim the government has in any interest in understanding the potential environmental costs of shipping oil through B.C.

The explanation from federal Environment Minister Peter Kent is that the employees in Vancouver were not there to clean up spills, but to provide "information about environmentally sensitive land and species at risk."

It's not the sort of thing Conservatives would want to hear about presumably if they have already made up their collective minds about the safety of the pipelines.

What I really don't understand is the Conservatives' failure to appreciate the political risks in trying to push these projects through. While it may be deemed radical for a Conservative from Alberta to be opposed to the pipelines, opposition in B.C., especially to increased tanker traffic, sits squarely in the middle of the road, cutting across all party lines.

"Radical" here more reasonably rep-resents the people who are vowing to stop the pipeline by any means necessary. If British Columbians believe they have been given a fair hearing and lost fairly, there won't be much tolerance for illegal acts.

But if the common experience of British Columbians is to feel we are being bulldozed by Ottawa, all bets are off.

Harper push for pipelines likely to backfire
This is how the pipeline became illegal.

This is who fouled the entire process from the start.

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