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Next B.C. Premier will find a place on the national stage

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix says he would run a serious government that respects other provinces and works closely with Ottawa.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Whether NDP Leader Adrian Dix holds his lead in Tuesday's election or Liberal Leader Christy Clark pulls off a comeback win, the next B.C. premier will hold sway on major files that ripple far beyond the province's borders.

The Energy Gambit

With other premiers and the federal government pushing for pipelines to the Pacific, B.C. is a gatekeeper. But Mr. Dix has come out against Enbridge's Northern Gateway project and expanding Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. Ms. Clark has hardly been more receptive – she will not back them without sweeteners, such as a share of revenues.

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B.C.'s impact on energy issues is not just about pipelines. The province has Canada's strongest carbon tax at a time when the country's environmental record is under scrutiny. And B.C., along with Saskatchewan and Alberta, has formed a New West Partnership to cut red tape and boost trade.

Chuck Strahl, a former B.C. MP and Conservative cabinet minister, has stayed out of the race. But energy development is as much about hearts and minds as it is the premier, he said.

"There's a whole 'social license' issue that's yet to be decided on this. That's as big an issue, or more, as who wins the election," Mr. Strahl said.

The Ottawa Factor

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives have largely avoided the campaign, but Mr. Strahl says Mr. Harper would work with New Democrats "if the person proves to be, you know, wanting to get something done."

Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day is helping Ms. Clark, saying he fears an NDP government. "The B.C. Liberals are the only ones who have a chance to stop that from happening," Mr. Day said in an interview. Although Conservative MPs have kept a low profile, "let me just say that, as fiscal conservatives, I would guess they understand the ramifications of NDP economic policies," Mr. Day said.

Mr. Dix's party has seen support from its federal counterparts, even though Mr. Dix has opposed federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair on, for example, the issue of Quebec secession. Federal NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen is nonetheless campaigning in his home province, confident a Dix majority would help the federal NDP in the 2015 election. "I'm trying to use whatever networks I have, for sure, because I think a New Democratic government would be very good for B.C.," Mr. Cullen said.

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The Premiers Next Door

Ms. Clark has taken an elbows-up approach to interprovincial relations, saying it's "tough luck" that other provinces do not think she is being constructive. Mr. Dix has been more tempered in his remarks, but faces the prospect of working with conservative counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The continuation of the New West Partnership is crucial to the West's economy, and therefore Canada's, says Dylan Jones, chief executive officer of the Canada West Foundation.

"It's always been true that the test of the New West Partnership is what happens when there's a major change of government," he said. "If three provinces that are really more naturally export-oriented can't figure out how to work together, it doesn't bode well for the country."

Mr. Dix's bilingualism would bode well for his relationship with Quebec (Ms. Clark does not speak French). Mr. Jones, a former senior official in the Saskatchewan government, said B.C.'s relations with his province and Alberta have broken down under Ms. Clark. "It is absolutely vital that the premier of British Columbia be working with other provinces, and it's not just the energy file," he said.

The Role of First Nations

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Mr. Dix has pledged to make the province's treaty process a priority, calling it a "crucial issue that exists in a different way in B.C than anywhere else." The role of First Nations has been underscored by Idle No More protests and objections to energy projects, and the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is from British Columbia.

First Nations issues are the "biggest issue facing whomever is elected," said Jody Wilson-Raybould, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. The assembly has not endorsed a candidate. But, Ms. Wilson-Raybould warns, First Nations voters make up major voting groups in several ridings. In particular, the new premier should recognize that economic development requires First Nations involvement more than ever, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said.

"If it's Christy Clark or Adrian Dix, their vision of this province has to be a shared vision with First Nations, because resource development in this province won't happen without the involvement, the consent or otherwise of our nations," she said.

The Contenders' View

Ms. Clark, speaking on Friday in Vancouver, declared: "Canada needs us.

"Canada cannot afford to have this province become a have-not province that fails to contribute to Confederation again. Now is absolutely the worst time for Canada to see British Columbia fall back into the hands of the NDP and become a have-not province. … But every Canadian is depending on us to succeed this time," she said.

Mr. Dix, meanwhile, promises he would run "a serious government" that will work better with other premiers than the "tough luck" approach of Ms. Clark.

"I respect other governments. I respect their jurisdiction. That's true of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the federal government," he said, adding he would not fight the federal Conservatives, but prefers to work with Mr. Harper. "I am not running to be leader of the opposition in Ottawa. I'll work closely with the Prime Minister and other premiers to make this a better country."

The New Democrats began the race with a large lead, one that has shrunk to just a few percentage points by Friday. The election is on Tuesday.

With reports from Ian Bailey in Victoria, Daniel Bitonti and Justine Hunter in Vancouver

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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