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(David Parkins for The Globe and Mail)
(David Parkins for The Globe and Mail)

Premier Clark a fair-weather pipeline friend Add to ...

The most devastating attack ad in the recent B.C. election campaign featured the disembodied head of B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix pasted on a weather vane.

The ad was crafted to seize on Mr. Dix’s flip-flop on the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project, abandoning his “no comment” principle in favour of “no.” The 30-second ad, with Mr. Dix’s face spinning on a squeaky bearing, didn’t distract viewers with any spoken narrative. It was a simple message that his change of direction demonstrates weak leadership.

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Now that the campaign is over, however, it is Premier Christy Clark who appears to be pivoting in a new direction on the future of oil pipelines across B.C.

During the campaign, in an editorial board meeting with The Globe and Mail, the B.C. Liberal Leader gave the rest of Canada little reason to expect that she would lift a finger to help Alberta oil reach new markets. We don’t need Alberta, because British Columbia has its own energy resources, she said. As for other premiers who didn’t like her B.C.-first attitude, she offered: “Tough luck.”

Ms. Clark said she would tolerate no exceptions to her five conditions that she established last summer for her government’s co-operation on oil pipeline construction and expressed frustration that none of the other parties – industry, Ottawa and Alberta – had responded to her demands. “I’m waiting. They all have my phone number.”

But the day after the election, Ms. Clark began planning a trip to mend fences with her Alberta counterpart, Premier Alison Redford. It wasn’t an event to which Ms. Clark drew attention, but it signals a new-found willingness to discuss how Alberta oil may find its way across B.C. to the coast.

Now that the campaign is over and Ms. Clark has secured a mandate, she can afford to be less combative. And Ms. Redford is pragmatic enough to accept that Ms. Clark’s campaign rhetoric was just that.

It was Ms. Redford who called her B.C. counterpart to congratulate Ms. Clark on her victory. In what was characterized as a cordial conversation, the two women agreed to meet to discuss common ground before the next Western Premiers’ Conference. That is progress, considering that Ms. Clark didn’t even bother to show up at the last meeting of the four western premiers, and after she walked out the meeting of Canada’s premiers in Halifax last summer.

There is no date, no agenda set for the meeting between the two premiers, but it is a thaw in their frosty relations and it is impossible to imagine that the issue of B.C.’s role as a transportation corridor for Alberta oil won’t come up in some way.

One possibility is that Ms. Clark will promote the David Black proposal for a new oil refinery in Kitimat, B.C. The idea has been treated with some skepticism – the proponent, Mr. Black, is a media mogul, not an energy titan. But Ms. Clark says his plan meets nearly all of her five conditions, while the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has met none.

This week, her government faces a deadline for a written submission on the federal environmental review of the Northern Gateway proposal. It is likely that the province will conclude that the project has not met the five conditions. But that could leave the door open for amendments to the proposal that would win the province’s consent.

Enbridge, the proponent of the Northern Gateway oil pipeline proposal, is seeking a meeting with Ms. Clark to see how they can move forward. Over all, Alberta’s oil producers are encouraged to see the B.C. Liberals returned to power. Had the NDP won, a letter would be on its way to Ottawa by now rescinding the agreement that gave the federal government the authority to run the environmental review. A made-in-B.C. review under the NDP was sure to end up rejecting the pipeline. At least now, Enbridge can see a “maybe” in sight.

Let’s return to the genesis of the weather-vane ad. When Mr. Dix announced mid-campaign that he would oppose an oil pipeline that would result in a sixfold increase in oil tanker traffic in Vancouver’s harbour, he was targeting voters in Ms. Clark’s Vancouver-Point Grey riding. Ms. Clark gambled the other way – by going after the NDP Leader on his Kinder Morgan statement, she knew she risked alienating voters in her riding. She lost her seat, but won the campaign.

The Premier has a mandate to pursue resource development, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a blanket endorsement in favour of oil pipelines.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

 
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