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NDP questions B.C. Premier’s mandate in backing Kitimat refinery proposal

B.C. Premier Christy Clark at the International LNG Conference in Vancouver on Feb. 25, 2013.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Premier Christy Clark has climbed on board a proposal to build one of the world's largest refineries near Kitimat, B.C., saying she'll provide the leadership to move the private project ahead.

With less than 10 weeks until election day, however, the opposition New Democrats say there is no time left in her mandate to offer any meaningful stewardship.

A day after newspaper magnate David Black announced he is close to reaching a $25-billion debt-financing agreement to build pipelines, supertankers and a new refinery on B.C.'s west coast, Ms. Clark rose in the House to offer her enthusiastic support for the plan.

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"Our government wants to use every tool at our disposal to move the proposal forward," Ms. Clark told the legislature. "Without question, this would be the largest single private-sector investment in the history of our great province. And it would be, potentially, a tremendous game-changer for our children and their children."

But the NDP says there are many reasons to doubt the plan will ever break ground.

"It's a photo opportunity," said NDP energy critic John Horgan after listening to the Premier's statement. The NDP is currently the odds-on favourite to win the May 14 election and he said he'll be meeting with Mr. Black on Monday to discuss the project.

"Whenever someone comes to the table with [billions], you want to listen to what they have to say," Mr. Horgan told reporters.

But he cautioned that there are major hurdles, including the daunting environmental approvals that would be required to move crude oil to the coast, and pointed to the current battle over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. Native land claims will also have to be addressed to move forward. As well, the economics of refining in Canada have not been favourable – it has been almost three decades since a new refinery fired up.

"Although I welcome Mr. Black's initiative," he said, "I think its important that the public understand this is a long, long way into the future and for a government that is down to 68 days left in its mandate, it seems odd to be taking up time in the legislature."

Energy Minister Rich Coleman, however, said it would be a mistake to underestimate Mr. Black. He said there is Crown land available for the refinery in the Kitimat area, and a clear understanding that first nations must be part of the equation.

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"David and his team are clear that whatever they do will have a relationship with first nations," Mr. Coleman told reporter. "They would hope they would be able to give them a piece of the action, so to speak, so they would be engaged and part of the long-term benefit of this."

While Ms. Clark has been in a fight with Alberta over the Northern Gateway project, she said this project would be an easier sell in British Columbia. There would be direct benefits to the province, and the environmental risk is reduced when shipping refined – rather than crude – oil.

"Our government takes the view that we should work together to address legitimate environmental and safety concerns and find a way to get to 'Yes' on projects that will grow our economy," she said.

The plan includes 550,000-barrel-a-day diluted bitumen refinery that would transform oil-sands product into fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. If built, the refinery would bring with it 3,000 operational and 6,000 construction jobs.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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