This week, Kinder Morgan is expected to file an application to build a second heavy oil pipeline across B.C. It’s a perfect bookend for the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, which is due to come out the other end of the application process any day now.
The application to the National Energy Board will be more than 20,000 pages, and that is without even saying precisely what route the Kinder Morgan pipeline will travel.
The B.C. government, similarly, won’t say what path it will take on Kinder Morgan’s proposal.
But Premier Christy Clark has been building the case, in recent speeches, for a vision of the province that almost demands these kinds of energy megaprojects. It is one that calls for a pace of economic growth that her generation has never enjoyed.
After twisting itself in contortions to avoid taking a firm position on the Enbridge pipeline, the Clark government doesn’t want to invest too much political capital in an energy project that may not fly with voters. It is leaving Ottawa to conduct the Kinder Morgan review.
The province signed a pact with Ottawa three years ago in which it agreed to accept the National Energy Board’s environmental review process as its own on major project proposals, including pipelines. The province has the right to back out but officials say it has no intent to do so in this case.
The Premier will continue to say those projects must meet her five conditions – a vague set of demands that don’t even spell out what degree of environmental standards she wants met. And yet, starting a few weeks ago, this new theme started to emerge in the Premier’s addresses.
“The fundamental challenge for B.C. – and in fact, all developed economies in the world – goes beyond the recent global downturn and a fragile recovery,” she said in Tokyo on Dec. 2, during a luncheon address at a natural resources conference where she earned a standing ovation.
“We need the courage to take a broader and deeper look, and admit the truth about most of the developed economies around the world.
“When was the last time we had real growth? It was the 1950s and ’60s, when 6- or even 8-per-cent growth was the norm. That wealth set a standard for government investments – for infrastructure, for health and education, for social programs.”
But over the past four decades, economic growth for most developed economies has been more like 2 or 3 per cent at best.
“So how can we afford to maintain the high standards that were set more than 40 years ago?” she asked.
“There are two choices. Manage decline year after year – and get by with less. Or take a bold step and grow the economy. I say let’s grow the economy.”
For more than a decade, B.C. voters have elected a government that promised it could deliver core services without more taxes. That left the B.C. Liberals – particularly since the 2008 economic downturn – in a box where they have been managing decline. The current budget increases spending, but at a rate that does not equal inflation and population growth.
The Premier now believes she has won a mandate, in the last election, to do better. She has said repeatedly that voters have endorsed her vision for real economic growth through resource development. It is a vision that is set to clash with pipeline opponents both in the north and the south if she cannot bring British Columbians along with the idea that the province needs such development to sustain the services we have come to expect.
She is approaching this delicately – not coming out with an endorsement of Kinder Morgan or Enbridge. But the Premier is seeking to begin a dialogue that aims to bridge the ever-present divide in B.C. over the resource development agenda.
There will be those who argue the solution is to grow a green economy, not one that poisons, floods and and chokes the environment. But the “clean energy” agendas of two former premiers, Gordon Campbell in B.C. and Dalton McGuinty in Ontario, are in tatters. Ms. Clark has shown zero interest in trying to revive Mr. Campbell’s vision.
The two pipeline projects, Northern Gateway and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, represent more than $11-billion in investment. It is hard to imagine that the Premier would allow her five conditions to put up a roadblock to that kind of growth. What she is doing, then, is trying to nudge her province toward awarding these kinds of projects the coveted social licence they need.