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Three reasons BC's Northern Gateway rejection is 'good politics'

After fighting the provincial election without an unequivocal position on pipeline development in B.C., on Friday the BC Liberal government expressed its formal rejection to Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. The reason for the rejection, according to the government, was that the development failed to comply with the five conditions Premier Christy Clark set out last year for the province to support pipeline projects.

For Will Horter, the executive director of the environmental activist group Dogwood Initiative, the reason for the rejection is simple: "It's good politics." In an article published in the advocacy group's online blog, Horter listed the three main reasons why it made sense for Clark to reject the oil tanker and pipeline proposal.

"Anything but a strong NO to Enbridge would have raised the ire of northern First Nations and communities -- those whom she quickly needs to appease to fast track [Clark's liquified natural gas] plans. Simply put, a YES to Enbridge would have -- as UBC prof George Hoberg recently said -- unleashed a backlash of civil disobedience unprecedented in our province's history, as well as potentially spurred a citizen initiative similar to the HST referendum, which could seriously derail her government's priorities.

"The second reason is that despite what some eastern pundits may claim, pro-oil tanker and pro-pipeline positions are politically toxic in B.C. What's been lost in the myriad of opinion editorials claiming the tanker issue is what cost the NDP the election is the fact that Christy Clark campaigned on 'Standing up for BC.' Her 'protect B.C. against Alberta and Ottawa' rhetoric served her well in the elections campaign.

"Another reason Clark's opposition to Enbridge isn't a surprise is that by all accounts she is a federal Liberal at heart. After the largest perceived election comeback in Canadian history, Clark is in a strong position to play hardball with Harper."

Horter acknowledges that there's a possibility for the Enbridge project to be approved in a "post-review secret deal," but he sees two problems arising if the provincial and federal governments reach a private deal with Enbridge.

"It is true: Ottawa could still try pushing through an approval for Enbridge while relying on promises to make the project better after the review. However, the public process is now over, so this would mean any changes Enbridge might make to their proposal would presumably be evaluated behind closed doors. After the HST backlash, it would be political suicide for either Harper or Clark to make backroom changes to their position on such a controversial proposal.

"Another problem with a backroom, post-review deal with Ottawa and Alberta is that it would completely undermine the [Joint Review Panel] process as well as future review processes… This approach would open up more legal and political risks than it would solve. Imagine what would happen to the upcoming regulatory review of the Kinder Morgan proposal if Victoria and Ottawa bring out the gaffers tape and approve Enbridge post review?"

Carlos Tello is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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