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Pro-business NDP and anti-pipeline Liberals? B.C. politics is through the looking glass

In Alice's adventures in the world on the other side of the mirror, everything is backward, nonsense trumps logic, and when the lion and the unicorn battle for the crown, everyone wants to mollify both combatants with offerings of bread and butter.

If you could watch B.C. politics through the looking glass these days, it just might make sense.

The sold-out B.C. New Democratic Party Leader's levee is coming up. Who is coming to dinner? Not organized labour. They've been elbowed out by business leaders who snapped up most of the $350-per-plate tickets to hear Adrian Dix deliver what is now his stock speech, preaching fiscal prudence and a "modest" agenda.

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The day after his Oct. 25 fundraiser, the B.C. Liberals will host a "free enterprise" day at their convention in Whistler. But free enterprise didn't top Premier Christy Clark's agenda this week as she stirred the pot in the Northern Gateway pipeline debate. Speaking to students in Calgary, Ms. Clark threatened to use every trick in the book to stop the pipeline if it passes a federal environmental review but doesn't meet her standards. Her government has even mapped out a strategy to refuse Enbridge the electricity it needs to pump its oil to the coast.

Providing electricity to industry is a core mandate of B.C. Hydro, and it is obligated to do so in most cases. With growing demand outstripping B.C. Hydro's resources, however, any hint that the government will withhold service is a chilling message to the investment community.

"Investment craves certainty," noted Travis Davies, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. "If you are investing billions of dollars, a stable and predictable climate is something you care about."

If you follow that move, it makes sense that the B.C. NDP has reaped thousands of dollars for its campaign war chest from energy companies in recent weeks. (A recent NDP fundraiser targeting that sector cost $3,000 per plate.) But wait, the Liberals are not starving. Fundraisers on both sides are finding there is bread and butter enough to go around.

What this reversal of roles does show is that, in the months before the next election, both the main parties are trying to shore up their weaknesses in the all-important quest for the middle ground. Mr. Dix wants to demonstrate economic credibility while Ms. Clark is standing up for the people – who by and large oppose the Enbridge pipeline.

Ms. Clark's trip to Calgary this week was not about reaching a deal with Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Her abrupt meeting with Ms. Redford was just a backdrop for Ms. Clark to tell voters back home that she is their green premier: No oil pipeline will be built unless her demands are satisfied.

The B.C. Premier as the champion of the environment? It's been a slow evolution and is likely a tough sell so late in the game. For months, she has been too busy worrying about the B.C. Conservatives splitting up her coalition party to pay much mind to the Enbridge file. With the Conservative threat now downgraded to mere spoiler status, Ms. Clark has time to focus on a broader class of voters. There is time to negotiate a real deal on Enbridge later. For the next eight months, she can stage a battle with the Alberta oil patch.

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It was left to Mr. Dix, on the heels of Ms. Clark's Calgary campaign, to fret about the impact on investment and interprovincial relations.

"This is a moment where Western Canada can really expand its influence in the country," he said in an interview. "I know we are in an election year here, but what you need is a business-like relationship."

To sum up, we have CAPP and Mr. Dix preaching the same message, while Ms. Clark antagonizes Alberta with her over-my-dead-body stance on oil pipelines.

Even in an election year, it makes one a little giddy.

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