Skip to main content

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Chief Sammy Robinson of the Haisla First Nation attend an event to celebrate a recent land sale to the Haisla in Kitimat, B.C., on Tuesday. Tuesday, June 17, 2014.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government remains opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, warning on Tuesday that it will deny provincial permits if Ottawa and Enbridge Inc. don't step up and meet a series of demands that have been on the table, and unresolved, for two years.

Shortly after the federal government granted conditional approval for the pipeline to carry Alberta oil to British Columbia's coast, B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak countered that four of her province's five conditions for heavy oil projects remain unsatisfied.

Ottawa has not yet convinced the B.C. government that its new rules for oil spill response on land and water are effective enough to meet the province's demands for "world-leading" environment protection. "They are not yet at a place where they have met that condition," Ms. Polak told reporters.

As well, Ms. Polak said she is still awaiting a proposal from Enbridge to set out how it would meet her province's demand for a "fair share" of the economic benefits if the pipeline is built.

Finally, B.C. wants the legal requirements regarding aboriginal and treaty rights to be addressed and First Nations to be provided with the opportunities to benefit from these projects. That demand never looked further from reality than on Tuesday, when a string of 31 First Nations organizations announced they have banded together to fight the project in the courts. "We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be," read the joint statement from the group, which includes the province's top aboriginal organizations.

Together, that means B.C. is not even close to abandoning its official opposition to the project.

"Our position remains unchanged: It is no," Ms. Polak said.

The $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project would carry 525,000 barrels of oil sands bitumen per day to Kitimat, B.C., to be loaded onto tankers for export to Pacific markets, but the B.C. government has argued that it would assume the environmental risk of an oil spill while seeing little financial benefit.

On Tuesday, the federal government met one of B.C.'s conditions by signing off on a National Energy Board certificate that itself includes 209 conditions, and roughly half of those requirements must be met before Enbridge can begin construction.

Enbridge still has a huge amount of work to do before it can stick shovels in the ground in B.C. – a task that could take a year or more. Even as he signed off on the project, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said Enbridge must do more to engage with First Nations along the pipeline route.

Roughly one-quarter of the proposed route goes through the traditional territories of the Carrier Sekani. Tribal Chief Terry Teegee said Enbridge won't be allowed to do preliminary work there. "If they ever come into our territories, our people will be there and they will be escorted out. … It is a decision by our people."

Grand Chief Ed John, of the First Nations Summit political executive, spoke to Mr. Rickford shortly after the decision was announced. Despite the courtesy call, Mr. John remains committed to fighting the pipeline and said Ottawa has failed in its duty to consult with First Nations. "I don't expect it will be built," he said.

Ms. Polak said that opposition makes it clear "there is a tremendous amount of work to be done," both by the proponent and Ottawa. Her government isn't offering to help. And even if B.C. is persuaded to sign off on Ottawa's marine and land oil spill protection plans, environmentalists have lined up with First Nations to oppose the project.

Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, said "Enbridge would be ill-advised to break ground on this project." Dogwood Initiative director Kai Nagata called on Premier Christy Clark to stop the project. "Nobody can force this pipeline through our province if the people here don't want it," Mr. Nagata said. "The B.C. government is about to come under enormous pressure to approve Northern Gateway. Premier Clark needs to reject the proposal once and for all and deny the provincial permits necessary for construction."