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VIEW: All eyes on Christy Clark as Northern Gateway decision imminent

With the federal government's decision on Enbridge's Northern Gateway oil tanker and pipeline proposal expected within the next week, the political hot potato is definitely back in B.C. Premier Christy Clark's lap.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, Clark doled out a lot of tough talk when it came to Northern Gateway, going so far as to tell the Toronto Globe and Mail that pushing ahead with the pipeline would spur a "national political crisis."

"Whether or not people supported the pipeline, they would band together to fight the federal government if they decided to intrude into British Columbia without our consent," she told the newspaper in October 2012.

"This project can only go ahead if it has the social licence to do so. It can only get the social licence from the citizens of British Columbia."

Speaking to Calgary university students the same month, Clark pointed out the B.C. government could withhold 60 different permits or refuse to hook pumping stations up to the province's electrical grid.

"The thing is, if British Columbia doesn't give its consent to this, there is no way the federal government or anyone else in the country is going to be able to force it through. It just won't happen," Clark said.

These statements don't leave a whole lot of room for Clark to manoeuvre, especially considering the Globe recently reported that none of her five conditions for approving heavy oil pipelines have been met.

It's a point that hasn't been overlooked by B.C. environment and democracy campaigners. Earlier this month, Forest Ethics Advocacy launched a new campaign called Stand Strong Christy.

"Thousands of British Columbians from across the province are sending messages calling on Premier Clark to continue opposing Northern Gateway and standing up for our watersheds, coast and children's future," said Nikki Skuce, ForestEthics Advocacy senior energy campaigner.

"With (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper's likely approval of the pipeline, we need our premier to stand with the majority of B.C. and push back on ever getting Northern Gateway built."

Meanwhile, another B.C. group is organizing for a citizens' initiative to put the Enbridge pipeline to an HST-style vote if Clark reverses her position on the project. Dogwood Initiative reports it has 75 local teams collecting petition signatures in advance of the federal government's decision.

"For this pipeline to be built, First Nations along the route as well as a democratic majority of British Columbians would have to support the project. Neither appears likely," said Kai Nagata, Dogwood's energy and democracy director, in a press release.

And another campaign, led by LeadNow and ForestEthics Advocacy, is targeting the 21 Conservative MPs in British Columbia who could feel the electoral fall-out in the next election if the feds green-light Northern Gateway.

While the feds certainly deserve to feel some heat, it's Clark on whom the spotlight is likely to shine the brightest in the short-term, given her election promise to "put B.C. first" and "stand strong" on her five conditions.

When the Northern Gateway announcement comes down, British Columbians are going to look to Clark to put her money where her mouth is, and it's hard to see how she's going to hand off the hot potato this time around.

Emma Gilchrist is deputy editor of DeSmog Canada.

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