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A totem pole on the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, a gift from the Lummi Nation in Washington state, frames the Chevron Burnaby Oil Refinery in the distance after the totem was unveiled during a ceremony in North Vancouver, B.C., September 29, 2013. The totem pole is meant to be a symbol of cross-border unity among Coast Salish nations opposing the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and expanded oil tanker traffic. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A totem pole on the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, a gift from the Lummi Nation in Washington state, frames the Chevron Burnaby Oil Refinery in the distance after the totem was unveiled during a ceremony in North Vancouver, B.C., September 29, 2013. The totem pole is meant to be a symbol of cross-border unity among Coast Salish nations opposing the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and expanded oil tanker traffic. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

B.C. NDP sticks with pipeline policy that may have cost election Add to ...

As Premiers Alison Redford and Christy Clark edge closer to a pact that would see new oil pipelines crossing British Columbia, the B.C. New Democrats head into their convention this month with little appetite to rekindle debate on the issue that likely cost them a victory in the provincial election last May.

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The NDP’s surprise decision to oppose the plan to expand Kinder Morgan’s existing oil pipeline has been fingered as a turning point in the election campaign. However, party president Moe Sihota said Tuesday there is just one resolution set to be debated by delegates at the convention that begins Nov. 15 – and it reinforces the current policy.

“There is no sense we are going to be vacating that position,” he said in an interview.

The convention is the first major gathering of the NDP since its unexpected electoral loss, and one of the main topics of the convention is to examine why the party lost its best opportunity in decades to reclaim power.

A leaked internal report from the NDP’s campaign manager, Brian Topp, noted that “the Liberal vote really began to pull together” once party Leader Adrian Dix abandoned his non-committal stance and came out against the Kinder Morgan proposal to twin its existing oil pipeline across B.C. “Our move on Kinder Morgan gave the Liberals a very helpful two-pocket pool shot that they played right through to the end of the campaign,” Mr. Topp wrote in his post-election analysis.

Mike Farnworth, a likely contender when New Democrats choose their next leader, believes his party would have been better to remain on the fence.

“My view was we had a good position prior to the Kinder Morgan decision,” Mr. Farnworth said in an interview Tuesday. Up until April 22, the NDP maintained that it would not take a position on Kinder Morgan’s plans until the company formally filed an application. It was a position that allowed the NDP to avoid saying “no” to development, but also left it vulnerable to losing environmental support in ridings in Metro Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.

Mr. Farnworth’s rebuke is a rare exception to the caucus solidarity that Mr. Dix has maintained despite concerns within the party that his Kinder Morgan flip-flop was made in isolation, catching even key MLAs who drafted the party’s election platform off guard.

Mr. Farnworth, the MLA for Port Coquitlam, finished second in the 2011 NDP leadership race. He has not said if he will be in the race to succeed Mr. Dix – the party has not yet set a date for that vote. However, he said he’d like to see the party debate the pipeline policy in the context of resource development.

“Where the discussion needs to go is back to the basics,” he said. “How do we reconcile resource development and environmental protection in this province in a way that satisfies the bulk of people in British Columbia?”

The Kinder Morgan decision played well with the party’s base – the NDP recorded its best day for fundraising in the campaign when Mr. Dix announced his opposition. And prominent New Democrat activists, including Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, have vigorously opposed the Kinder Morgan plan.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Dix criticized Ms. Clark for negotiating an agreement with Alberta that will help clear the path for Alberta oil to the coast. He said the B.C. Liberal Premier led B.C. voters to believe she was opposed to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline before the election, “misleading on an issue of fundamental importance to British Columbia.”

But he said the fallout from the tactical decision he took during the campaign on Kinder Morgan has not changed his mind about his pipeline policy.

“You can have a debate on those things in terms of tactics,” he told reporters. But he said his party opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway project well in advance of the election “and that position was always going to apply to Kinder Morgan.”

He acknowledged the controversy over the way he handled the Kinder Morgan announcement, “but the reality is, I don’t think British Columbians want to see, either at Kitimat or here [in Metro Vancouver], our coast turned into a bitumen oil export port.”

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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