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The view looking down the Douglas Channel from Kitimat, B.C. is seen in this file photo. The Northern Gateway pipeline once built would bring oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast to be loaded on tankers and shipped around the world.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Former Canadian diplomat Robert Hage is urging the federal, Alberta and B.C. governments to work together to get public and First Nations support for the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project.

Although the proposed $6.5-billion pipeline was approved last year by the federal government, it remains contentious in British Columbia, where it is strongly opposed by First Nations, environmental groups and effectively by the provincial government, which has imposed five as-yet-unmet conditions for acceptance.

Because of the widespread opposition, some media pundits have declared Northern Gateway dead, but Mr. Hage's paper for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a conservative Canadian think tank, says the pipeline can be saved if governments work together to address some of the causes of that opposition.

"This paper has found that this is an issue fraught with contradictory questions and contradictory answers, with economic needs but environmental misgivings, with public scrutiny but lack of public awareness, with careful planning but missed opportunities," Mr. Hage says.

He says the project went through "an extraordinary consultative process," which ended last year when a Joint Review Panel recommended acceptance of the pipeline, with 209 conditions attached. Although Ottawa quickly accepted the JRP's recommendation, and Enbridge said it could meet those conditions, the pipeline was left in limbo because of wide public opposition and the B.C. government's demands, which among other things call for fiscal benefits to the province that reflect "the level and nature of the risk" borne by British Columbia.

"Now what happens?" asks Mr. Hage, who says that although the JRP process is completed, "there remains a great deal of work ahead."

He states that the governments of Canada, British Columbia and Alberta must unite "to overcome the mistakes or oversights of the past and to build public awareness and engage in collaborative regional planning among themselves, First Nations and local communities."

Mr. Hage was a Canadian diplomat for 38 years, serving in embassies in Washington, Lagos, Paris and as deputy head of the Canadian Mission to the European Union in Brussels. He was also principal counsel for the Canadian-U.S. free-trade agreement and was a representative for Canada at the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea.

He makes four key recommendations on Northern Gateway.

He calls for the establishment of an independent citizens advisory council to promote the environmental safe operation of both oil and LNG terminals and tankers in British Columbia. He says a model can be found in Alaska, where funding for such a council is provided by pipeline and terminal operators.

Mr. Hage calls for native employment needs to be guaranteed along the pipeline route, in terminals and in oil-spill prevention and response facilities.

He says project backers need to work together with a First Nations financial management board, getting federal and provincial loan guarantees if needed, "to ensure First Nations are able to obtain equity interest in Northern Gateway and other projects."

And Mr. Hage calls for a review to determine the costs and benefits of building crude oil refineries in British Columbia, which have been proposed by some parties but broadly dismissed by industry as not economically viable.

While acknowledging that there remain strong objections to the pipeline project on the West Coast, Mr. Hage urges a broader perspective, suggesting that what's good for the country as a whole should outweigh the interests of any one region.

"Over all," he states, "it is important to remember that the Joint Review Panel always considered Canada's national interest; not Alberta's interest, or British Columbia's or that of one particular group."