Clark should commit, start making demands
Premier Christy Clark’s reluctance to say where she stands on the proposed Enbridge pipeline isn’t just a hot political issue in B.C.
Clark’s place on the fence was also a topic in the recent election in Alberta, where Premier Alison Redford took flak for failing to get Clark on board with the pipeline megaproject.
Alberta stands to make a killing on pipeline royalties by pumping heavy petroleum from the province’s oilsands to the B.C. coast for shipment by supertanker to Asia, and Redford said Clark should not “pick and choose” between resource projects if she really wants to create jobs in B.C.
“That’s not the way you grow an economy,” Redford said.
“It’s not a matter of saying, ‘We’re going to pick this and choose that.’ Because, at the end of the day, the question that must be asked is, ‘What is the signal that this is sending to potential investors?’”
Redford said B.C. could reap economic benefits like Alberta, but only if “a signal is sent that British Columbia is prepared to develop their resources.”
Easy for her to say. The Enbridge pipeline is a popular idea in Alberta, which would enjoy the lion’s share of jobs and revenue from the project, while being exposed to far less risk of a catastrophic oil spill.
But B.C. is the province that would have to put its pristine coastline at risk from a supertanker accident, and Clark is well aware of the risk-reward ratio at play.
“There is a huge, huge economic benefit to Alberta and to Canada. But at the moment, British Columbia’s proportion of that benefit is equal to P.E.I.,” she said.
For that reason, Clark says she is staying neutral on the Enbridge pipeline proposal until the completion of environmental-impact hearings. Ditto for Kinder Morgan’s proposal to expand its pipeline capacity through Vancouver, which would increase the number of oil tankers in Burrard Inlet five-fold.
But that creates another set of political problems for Clark. How can she portray herself as the “jobs premier” who wants to build the B.C. economy, while refusing to take a position on two huge economic projects in the province?
Clark is right to point out B.C. is getting shortchanged on the benefits of the Enbridge pipeline.
Public support for the project has also waned since the start of public hearings on the project, according to opinion polls.
That’s why there are already quiet back-channel conversations going on about a possible revenue-sharing deal involving B.C., Alberta and the federal government.
The only way this thing is going to fly in B.C. is if we get a much bigger piece of the action — something that’s become obvious on the other side of the provincial border.
“If B.C. is to open its doors to the insatiable consumers of oilsands products in Asia, Alberta may have to crack open its vault, at least a little,” the Edmonton Journal wrote in a recent editorial.
“Clark’s B.C. government is in a strong position to ask for much more than temporary construction jobs and increased traffic at the port of Kitimat.
“It’s naive to think the B.C. government and its people will welcome the intrusion of a pipeline unless the reward is more than worth the potential risks.”
Very true. As Clark struggles to find an issue that could help her win an election, achieving a possible revenue-sharing deal with Alberta and Canada on the Enbridge pipeline is probably on her wish list.
What remains to be seen is whether any amount of promised money would change the tide of opposition to the project — or change the fortunes of Clark’s limping Liberals.