British Columbia Premier Christy Clark opened another front in her demand for a “fair share” of benefits from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, calling on the Harper government to sit down at the negotiating table along with Alberta.
Ms. Clark laid out the new terms as Canada’s premiers met with aboriginal leaders in the historic fishing town of Lunenburg ahead of the annual Council of the Federation meetings, which begins Thursday in Halifax. “My basic request is for Alberta and Canada to come to the table and sit down and figure out how we can resolve this,” she told reporters after the meeting.
But the province’s push for a greater slice of oil-sands prosperity comes as the sector’s prospects dim. Suncor Energy Inc. is backing away from its plans to produce a million barrels of oil a day by 2020, amid growing concerns from investors about the profit outlook for the oil sands. The Calgary-based giant’s hesitation stands in contrast to a bold play by China’s state-controlled CNOOC, which this week proposed a $15-billion takeover of oil and gas producer Nexen Inc.
Ms. Clark repeated her vow that she would scuttle the proposed $6-billion project – which would take heavy oil from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., and then on to Asia – if her province does not get its “fair share” of revenues for shouldering the environmental risk.
Ms. Clark has not defined “fair share” in dollars, but has noted that while British Columbia will see little in return for the risk it is taking, “the federal government and Alberta are going to see billions in other tax revenue.”
By including Ottawa, Ms. Clark is essentially asking whether there is a role for the federal government in ensuring that all provinces benefit from Canada’s resource development, commensurate with the risk they take on.
Ottawa says resource revenues are a provincial responsibility, while offering federal assurance that any pipeline will be environmentally safe. “We will continue working with each province to assure Canada’s long-term prosperity,” said Andrew MacDougall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications.
Ms. Clark telephoned the Prime Minister last week to inform him of her demands and said he was receptive to her message. She said Mr. Harper is “aware that this project faces some challenges and that some discussion needs to happen.”
Ms. Clark did gain at least one ally in her fight with Alberta. Shawn Atleo, the newly re-elected chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said that if first-nation groups are not consulted about this project as “equal partners,” they would call for it to be stopped.
For her part, Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford – who had earlier criticized Ms. Clark’s position as one that would “fundamentally change” Confederation – is trying to shut down the debate, saying the meeting was not the place to negotiate. Instead, Ms. Redford is expected to use the meeting as a way to present her vision for a national energy strategy, which she hopes would streamline major projects and help avoid further dust-ups between provinces. That pitch is expected Friday.
As the pipeline issue dominated the corridors among handlers and officials, Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall hoped it would not derail the agenda of the three-day summit.
The Northern Gateway pipeline was not “specifically” raised in closed-door meetings, Mr. Wall said, although aboriginal leaders did talk about their desire to be part of the consultation on energy resources and economic development.
Ms. Clark and Ms. Redford were barely making eye contact on Wednesday. In the closed-door session, they sat at opposite ends of the table. Later, the premiers boarded a tall ship for a sail on the harbour. Again, the two were standing far away from each other as they left to see other tall ships and the iconic Bluenose II.
Ms. Clark is facing a tough fight for re-election in May, 2013 – and much of that is coming from the NDP’s Adrian Dix, who opposes the pipeline outright. An Angus Reid survey this month had the NDP at 45-per-cent support, compared to 23 per cent for the BC Liberals. Ms. Clark had initially declined to take a public stand on the project pending the outcome of a review by the National Energy Board, but that changed this week.
With a report from Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa