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British Columbia B.C. Finance Minister breaks ranks to bash pipeline critics

B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has sided with the federal Conservatives in attacking critics of the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon went off script this week, deviating from his government's carefully neutral stand on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Premier Christy Clark has refused to be drawn into taking a position, stating that her government will await the outcome of the National Energy Board process before arriving at any conclusions.

But this week, Mr. Falcon joined the Harper government in attacking critics of the project.

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With the pipeline regulatory hearings just getting under way this week, the federal government has ramped up a campaign to brand opponents as radical environmentalists backed by foreign interests, accusing some environmental organizations of seeking to hijack the hearings and kill the project through tactical delays.

"Well, I think they've got a point," Mr. Falcon told reporters. "I think we have to be very worried about the fact that foreign money is going into lobbying efforts against British Columbia and Canada's economic interests."

For a Premier whose slogan – "Canada starts here" – underscores B.C.'s desire to be a key player in growing the national economy, Ms. Clark's reticence may seem out of character. But in British Columbia, environmentalism is not a radical offshoot of the left. The province has branded itself internationally as a leader on climate change, so the prospect of pipelines and oil tankers getting Alberta crude oil to Asian markets can be a politically toxic subject.

Ms. Clark's government has embraced Ottawa's pledge to speed up the review process, but that position is carefully built around the notion that even a "no" decision on the project would be best reached quickly.

"It is different here in B.C.? Yes," said Pat Bell, B.C.'s Jobs Minister, who cautions that British Columbians need to have their voices heard. "I don't think you bulldoze your way through these things."

Mr. Falcon said some fireworks are be expected.

"Obviously, whenever you have major public hearings like this there's going to be an element of theatre associated with it. This is British Columbia, after all. If we had anything less than that, I'd be shocked and surprised."

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