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B.C. NDP’s surprise pipeline stand wins green thumbs-up

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix speaks during a town hall campaign stop in Vernon, B.C., on April 21, 2013.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix's surprise decision to oppose the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline has earned his party a flood of endorsements from environmentalists.

It's a dramatic turnaround from the 2009 election, when his party was under fire over its opposition to the Liberals' carbon tax.

Going into this election, the B.C. NDP faced skeptical conservationists over the party's refusal to take a stand on Kinder Morgan. The energy company wants to almost triple the capacity of its existing pipeline carrying crude oil from Edmonton to Burnaby.

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But standing on the banks of the North Thompson River on Monday, Mr. Dix marked Earth Day by declaring that the expected increase in tanker traffic resulting from Kinder Morgan's plan is not acceptable.

"We are going to take all the leaflets we have done and put them through a shredder," said Eric Swanson, director of the Dogwood Initiative's No Tankers campaign. The conservation organization had been flooding key ridings with pamphlets showing that the NDP had not closed the door to the pipeline. That strategy now will change. "We applaud the NDP for standing up for British Columbians."

Other organizations including the Sierra Club of B.C. also commended the NDP for its new position, and high-profile activist Tzeporah Berman announced she will now endorse the NDP for this campaign. She will begin door-knocking for NDP candidate David Eby, who is running against B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark in the riding of Vancouver-Point Grey.

On the eve of the 2009 election campaign, several leading environmentalists including Ms. Berman sharply attacked the NDP for its stand on the carbon tax. It was a remarkable rift and threatened to carry over into this campaign.

Mr. Dix, even earlier this month, had insisted that the NDP would wait to see the formal application before responding to the Kinder Morgan proposal.

But in Kamloops, as he unveiled his party's environmental platform, Mr. Dix said he would not support any oil pipeline that would change Vancouver's harbour into a major oil export terminal.

He said the Alberta oil carried by the existing pipeline, which runs through Kamloops, is mostly refined on the West Coast, in Burnaby and in Washington State.

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But he said the increased capacity would lead to a five- or six-fold increase in exports out of the Vancouver port. Currently, there are an estimated 65 oil tankers leaving Vancouver's harbour each year. Environmentalists believe that number will rise to 400 tankers.

"The Kinder Morgan proposal, as we understand it, would dramatically transform what that pipeline does," Mr. Dix told reporters. "Of course we have to wait to see the formal application, but I don't think that the port of Metro Vancouver … should become a major oil export port."

He also repeated an earlier commitment to expand the carbon tax – not increasing the current rate, but broadening the scope to capture emissions from the natural gas sector. The money would go to transit and other projects to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Mr. Dix made the announcement in the Kamloops-North Thompson riding held by Environment Minister Terry Lake.

Speaking in his campaign office, Mr. Lake said an NDP government would send a chill to investors with such pronouncements.

"The NDP are all over the map and appear to set their policy on whichever way the wind is blowing," he said.

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Mr. Lake also suggested the position could clip the NDP's support in some regions such as the key Kamloops ridings.

"I think there is a disconnect with people in the larger metropolitan centres about where the wealth of this country and this province comes from. Here in the interior I think we have a better understanding that mining, forestry, oil and gas actually provide the dollars that help support education and health care and keep people employed in this province."

The NDP also would dissolve the Pacific Carbon Trust – the government agency that sells greenhouse-gas offsets – which has been criticized by the auditor-general.

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