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British Columbia NDP Leader Adrian Dix pauses while speaking to reporters after announcing that if elected an NDP government would allow compensation for students that attended Woodlands School prior to 1974, during a news conference in New Westminster, B.C., on Monday February 4, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

Usually, the travails of a provincial politician matter little outside that province. But the travails of Christy Clark increase the already strong odds that Adrian Dix will be premier of British Columbia by June. And that will matter a great deal to Stephen Harper.

The Clark government is still reeling from a leaked memo outlining the B.C. Liberal Party's strategy for winning over ethnic voters in the May 14 election. A senior aide and a cabinet minister have resigned; the caucus is rebellious; there have been calls for the Premier's resignation.

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Things are so bad that Ms. Clark trumpeted the fact that her government survived a vote on its budget, Tuesday. For a majority government, that really shouldn't be a big deal.

The affair is a puzzlement to many in Ottawa. A similar memo surfaced in 2011 detailing "very ethnic" ridings that the Conservatives were targeting for the upcoming election. An aide was fired, but things soon died down.

The Conservatives were popular among immigrant voters, who would contribute mightily to the Tories' majority-government victory that May.

But the Clark government is deeply unpopular, among immigrants and native-born alike. Many voters appear to have written it off as tired and inept. In those circumstances, everything sticks: every controversy becomes a scandal and every day becomes a bad-news day.

And so, barring a historic upset, NDP Leader Adrian Dix will win the B.C. election. In which case, the new premier will swiftly become a national figure.

Mr. Dix is flatly opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would take bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast, where it would be shipped by tanker to China and elsewhere.

Environmentalists don't want it, native groups don't want it, and Mr. Dix doesn't want it.

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Constitutionally, it may be possible for a federal government to impose a major infrastructure project upon a province without provincial consent. In practice, it's impossible.

After all, Stephen Harper was the co-author of the Firewall letter urging the Alberta government to assert greater control over its political space. Mr. Harper has long defended the rights of the provinces to manage their own affairs.

Forcing a pipeline across B.C. over Mr. Dix's fierce objections would be both politically suicidal and a betrayal of Conservative principles.

This is one very important reason why many observers believe the Northern Gateway proposal is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Mr. Dix might cause Mr. Harper grief in other ways. He opposes parts of the soon-to-be-unveiled free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union that would open government procurement contracts to foreign bidding and increase patent protections on pharmaceuticals.

He is likely to be equally opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership, if and when that ambitious accord among 11 Pacific nations is unveiled.

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Beyond that, Mr. Dix is young, smart, articulate and equipped with sharp elbows. As the most important NDP politician in the country apart from federal leader Thomas Mulcair, he could easily become a locus of Western progressive opposition to the Conservatives.

Speaking of Mr. Mulcair, it just so happens that Mr. Dix speaks fluent French – something for the federal leader to ponder, if things don't go his way in the next election.

John Ibbitson is The Globe's chief political writer in Ottawa.

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