Dan Albas is the Conservative MP for the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla, a riding in the south, central part of the province that is a long, long way from where Enbridge Inc. proposes to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline that will carry as much as 500,000 barrels of Alberta bitumen across the Rockies to the northern B.C. port of Kitimat. Kitimat, incidentally, is in the riding of New Democrat Nathan Cullen, while the pipeline runs through Cullen’s riding and then the ridings of BC Conservative Bob Zimmer (Prince George-Peace River) and Alberta Conservative MPs Rob Merrifield (Yellowhead) and Brian Storseth (Westlock-St. Paul)
Though Albas and his constituents live a long way from the Northern Gateway’s route or port — as do most who live in B.C. — this is a big issue for them. The federal NDP believe that, so far as votes in B.C. go in the 2015 general election, campaigning against the pipeline is electoral gold.
To keep their majority, the Conservatives must essentially hold the rough proportion of seats they hold in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC. (More seats have been added to Ontario, Alberta and BC.) To win government for the first time ever, New Democrats say they need 50-plus seats in Quebec, a good chunk of Ontario, and then they need B.C. to go orange. So B.C. is a crucial battleground in the 2015 electoral calculus for a government.
In the last provincial election in B.C., NDP Leader Adrian Dix blew a big lead in the polls and that lead started to melt when Dix flip-flopped on another pipeline issue – the expansion of the already existing Kinder Morgan pipeline that takes Alberta crude to the port of Vancouver. Blue collar workers in B.C.’s interior deserted Dix and the NDP after that flip-flop believing that the BC NDP was not interested in the resource industry that paid their mortgages. Net result? Dix lost the election and his job. BC Liberal Christy Clark won a majority.
The federal Conservatives believe that, if they play their cards right, they just might be able to find the same political success as Clark. And if the response to the Northern Gateway decision so far from the Conservatives is any indication, they will go about that by dialing down the rhetoric (once, Conservative Joe Oliver while he was natural resources minister referred to environmentalist opposing Gateway as “radicals”) and relying as much as they can on some of the sobering pile of regulations that Enbridge will have to go through to finally start building the pipeline.
In a newsletter to his constituents tonight, Albas goes through all of this, emphasizing that the National Energy Board recommendations which were approved by the Harper cabinet involved 209 conditions. He notes that several pieces of provincial legislation will govern Enbridge’s way forward. He notes that consultations with aboriginal communities must continue.
“Where do I stand?,” Albas asks his reader after all this. Well, as I read between the lines, Albas stands in favour of the general principle of resource development but not necessarily in favour of this particular project. ” I support having an independent scientific process that will handle the expected 650 Billion dollars of investment over the next ten years in developing Canada`s natural resources. While some would prefer that elected officials take a “just say no” approach to resource development in my view a balance can be achieved with responsible resource development which creates jobs and supports our local communities. To arbitrarily abandon development without due process through political intervention will ultimately chase investment away; this not only negates the well paying jobs, but no investment means no innovation in cleaner or more efficient methods. If we do not have new pipelines, we will have old ones, plus rail cars and truck transport carrying our [petroleum] product.”
Here is the entire newsletter Albas sent around this night. Worth a read if you are interested in the politics of this file.
This week the Government of Canada has accepted the recommendation from the Joint Review Panel regarding the Northern Gateway project. What this decision means is that the proponent must now demonstrate how (and if) it can meet and satisfy the 209 conditions that were identified from the National Energy Board JRP review process. Based on some of the feedback I have been hearing in response to this decision there are in some circumstances a misunderstanding on this process and what this decision really means.
I believe it is important to recognize that this week’s announcement does not mean shovels will soon hit the ground with construction getting underway to build the Northern Gateway project. Ultimately this week’s decision is another step in a very lengthy and detailed process that will now see the proponent attempt to establish and identify how the 209 conditions will be met. Additional consultations with Aboriginal communities will be required where many (but not all) have established concerns and in some cases outright opposition to this project. There are also additional conditions that have been put forward from the BC Provincial Government as well as litigation pending and in some cases already underway.
Aside from those challenges for greater context of some of the regulatory requirements that also remain in place from the various levels of Government the following acts apply: authorization under the Fisheries Act; Approval under the Indian Act to cross Reserves, authorization under the Federal Real Property and Federal Immovables Act, Authorization under the Canadian Transportation Act, Approval and licensing issued under the Explosives Act; permits and authorizations under the Water Act, Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Public Lands Act, Alberta Forests Act, Historical Resources Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Public Health Act, Alberta Weed Control Act, and the Public Highways Act.
Some of the British Columbia permits and authorizations include the Forest Act, Forest and Range Practices Act, Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act, Weed Control Act, Land Act, Agricultural Land Commission Act, Fisheries Act, Fisheries Protection Act, Water Act, Environmental Management Act, Wildlife Act, Heritage Conservation Act, Transportation Act, and Industrial Roads Act. In total between the Federal, BC and Alberta provincial Governments there are over 100 different regulatory obligations involved.
The above list is only a sample of some of the many acts involved that would require approval and authorization over and above the 209 conditions established by the Joint Review Panel. Assuming all of these conditions can be met and satisfied (including regulatory compliance), like most projects of this magnitude a right of way would need to be acquired that would potentially involve further public hearings and dealings with affected landowners. This is only brief overview highlighting some of the many conditions and challenges that remain for the proponent to satisfy.
Why not just reject Gateway outright? This is a question I receive often from opponents of the Gateway project. Ultimately as Canadians we need to recognize that currently bitumen is increasingly being shipped by rail; rail as we know is a less safe form of transporting oil compared to pipelines which are safer and more efficient. We also have to recognize that there is only so much rail capacity and if rail capacity is overtaken by oil, it will displace other important commodities and adversely affect other sectors of our Canadian economy, most likely agriculture. I think most would agree that is not acceptable.
We should also recognize that Canada has the third largest oil reserve in the world, but that is only if you consider 97% of that oil is in the oil sands. We have also learned that our economy and our future can be threatened if we do not diversify and expand our trading partners– to do that we need international market access and that in turn means infrastructure and access points. Gateway may or may not turn out not to be the solution but ultimately we need a transparent process that determines how we can safely and responsibly secure Canada’s energy future.
Where do I stand? I support having an independent scientific process that will handle the expected 650 Billion dollars of investment over the next ten years in developing Canada`s natural resources. While some would prefer that elected officials take a “just say no” approach to resource development in my view a balance can be achieved with responsible resource development which creates jobs and supports our local communities. To arbitrarily abandon development without due process through political intervention will ultimately chase investment away; this not only negates the well paying jobs, but no investment means no innovation in cleaner or more efficient methods. If we do not have new pipelines, we will have old ones, plus rail cars and truck transport carrying our product.
How we secure and maximize the best possible return for Canadians on our energy future is part of an important discussion on how we can build a stronger Canada.