B.C. Conservative MPs whose ridings are along the route of the proposed Northern Gateway project say they aren't feeling politically cornered by their outright support or wait-and-see stands on the controversial proposal despite public opposition to the plan.
Dick Harris, the Tory MP for Cariboo-Prince George, says he is awaiting the outcome of a federal review examining the $6-billion project to ship Alberta oil-sands bitumen to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia, but that he emphatically supports Gateway.
"I like the project. I like the socio-economic aspects. The Gateway project will be a huge benefit to our communities, the Western provinces and Canada. I am sincerely hoping everything works out in a positive way on this project because I would like to see it go forward," Mr. Harris said in an interview on Thursday. "I am certainly a big supporter of Gateway."
He acknowledged spills elsewhere on the watch of project proponent Enbridge Inc., but said they were small relative to the amount of oil that has been moved by the embattled company, and he suggested concerns from constituents are to be expected because "you always hear from people opposed to something."
"That's human nature. It's also human nature to speak louder if you're against something than for something."
New Democrat Nathan Cullen, the NDP House Leader whose Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding is along the proposed route, suggested Mr. Harris and his fellow Tory MP Bob Zimmer of Prince George-Peace River, have "painted themselves into a very difficult place" on the Gateway file.
"They have spent a lot of political capital on this and doubled down even though the tides are turning in public opinion. They're on the wrong side of this issue," Mr. Cullen said in an interview on Parliament Hill. "I don't see their exit strategy."
But Mr. Harris suggested Mr. Cullen may be "painting himself into a corner" by being opposed to a project that might bring significant economic benefits to northwestern B.C.
"What's to say this project goes through and in a hundred years there's never a spill and the benefits go on and on."
Mr. Zimmer was more cautious than Mr. Harris. While chiding MPs who have been "injecting themselves into the process," – and naming Mr. Cullen in particular – he said he has put his faith in the review of the project.
"For us, it's a pretty simple process. We're trying to get our resources developed responsibly and part of that process is to have a good review, and if it passes that review, it will go forward," he said.
His stand was consistent with that of federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. In September, Mr. Oliver vowed not to allow pipeline and gas development that would despoil the B.C. environment. Mr. Zimmer suggested Gateway was consistent with the values of B.C. "In our part of the world, we develop resources. We do it with forestry. We do it through natural gas. We do it with oil. We do it responsibly. This is one project that needs to make the grade. If it doesn't, it won't go ahead."
Polling by Angus Reid Public Opinion released earlier this month suggests opposition to the $6-billion project is especially pointed in the north as part of a trend throughout the province against the plan. Forty-seven per cent of northern respondents to an online survey of 800 respondents conducted Oct 9 and 10, said they were "completely opposed" to Gateway – the highest such ranking in that designation among B.C. voters. Across the province, the similar figure was 37 per cent.
Angus Reid vice-president Mario Canseco, based in Vancouver, said the issue was politically "tricky" for the government because promises of future benefits were not enough to win support for the project in the present.