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b.c. politics

BC NDP Party Leader Adrian Dix during an interview with the Globe and Mail in Vancouver May 6, 2013.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix says he wants to work with Ottawa to unlock economic development in the province, but will not tolerate a status quo of speedy approvals for resource projects that override public input.

Mr. Dix also declared that energy companies need to earn a "social licence" from communities along pipeline routes and take the time for broad consultations, avoiding the heated clashes that have given British Columbians an undeserved reputation for being anti-development.

Mr. Dix wants to shape a more conciliatory relationship between B.C. and the rest of Canada than the Premier he seeks to replace in the B.C. election on May 14. In an editorial board meeting with The Globe and Mail on Sunday, B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark promised to fight for her province's interests and said it is "tough luck" if the rest of the premiers don't like her approach.

With a week left in the campaign and Mr. Dix leading the polls by a narrowing margin, a pivotal issue in the election is how the two main parties would shape the province's resource-driven economy, including what role, if any, B.C. will play in moving Alberta's oil to the West Coast to reach Asian markets.

Both the NDP and the Liberals favour the prospect of transforming B.C.'s natural-gas resource into liquefied natural gas, but the Liberal Leader maintains that New Democrats would "kill" the opportunity with policies that include imposing a carbon tax on natural-gas emissions. The NDP Leader, in turn, says the Liberal plan to eliminate the debt on the back of LNG is little more than a fairy-tale promise based on an industry that is still years away from producing government revenue.

Mr. Dix said that major project applications need to be processed faster, but limiting community input is not the right shortcut.

This month, the National Energy Board introduced a daunting application process for submissions on pipeline hearings – Canadians must complete a 10-page application to prove they would be directly affected by the development or that they have relevant expertise to gain standing. The changes stem from federal legislation passed last year to speed up approvals.

"It simply isn't accurate to say public participation is the reason for delay," Mr. Dix told an editorial board meeting with The Globe and Mail Monday. "We have to get to decisions more quickly," he added, but that should be done through a clear and adequately funded regulatory process, not by curtailing public input. "You absolutely need social licence."

The B.C. Liberals appear to be closing the public-opinion gap that had provided Mr. Dix's party with a comfortable lead just three weeks ago. Mr. Dix has now sharpened his message for voters, saying the Liberal government "needs to lose" on May 14 because of its mishandling of the economy.

He said he would do a better job than Ms. Clark of working with Mr. Harper despite their partisan differences.

"I think I'm going to have a good relationship with the Prime Minister," he said, adding is room to work on resolving aboriginal land claims, and on improving skills and training opportunities.

Mr. Dix said British Columbia's unique landscape – where much of B.C.'s public lands are still tied up in unresolved claims – presents a significant hurdle for economic development. Without certainty over the land question, projects can easily be bogged down in legal battles.

"Inaction on these questions is going to cost us, as a province and as a country," Mr. Dix said. "Should I be elected premier, I'll be going to see the Prime Minister on this [treaty] question – this will be the issue on my agenda."

The momentum on land-claims negotiations achieved under former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell has been lost, Mr. Dix said, since Ms. Clark moved into the premier's office two years ago.

Mr. Dix said Enbridge Inc. mishandled its efforts to move the Northern Gateway pipeline project ahead, triggering a backlash that the company is now unlikely to overcome.

"It sends the wrong signal about B.C.," he said. "They, themselves, are part of the problem."

He said the province needs to take back control over environmental reviews on the pipelines, and that strong environmental standards are the key to winning over public support.

"People in British Columbia support economic development," he said. He pointed to support for forestry, mining and liquefied natural gas as sectors that an NDP government would advance.

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