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The Globe and Mail

Pipeline politics trump sisterhood of the premiers

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, left, and Alberta Premier Alison Redford embrace after a joint press conference in Calgary on Oct. 21, 2011.

Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

The Northern Gateway pipeline could be the most glittering jewel of all in Premier Christy Clark's highly-hyped jobs plan for British Columbia.

The proposed, $5.5-billion project to carry Alberta crude from the oil sands through northern B.C. to the West Coast port of Kitimat would create 4,000 well-paying construction jobs and hundreds of permanent positions.

Yet, awash in mutual admiration as women leaders of Canada's two westernmost provinces, Ms. Clark nonetheless found herself differing with Alberta's freshly-minted premier, Alison Redford, on the ambitious Gateway megaproject during Ms. Clark's brief visit to Calgary last week.

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Ms. Redford is all for it. Ms. Clark, not so much.

Pressed repeatedly for her position on the pipeline during a joint Calgary press conference with her new sister-in-arms, Ms. Clark doggedly dodged the issue.

Over and over, she repeated that B.C. would not say "yea" or "nay" until the federal environmental review of the project is complete, at least two years down the road.

And even then, should the federal assessment clear the pipeline to proceed, Ms. Clark gave no guarantee B.C. would give it a green light, as well.

"If the answer is 'yes', that will provide us with the information we need to be able to take a position and have a public debate about it," the B.C. Premier told reporters in the heart of Canada's oil business.

"It's not just the outcome of the process that will be useful. It will be all the information provided in the process."

Ms. Clark's reluctance to embrace the Gateway pipeline may be surprising to some, given her tub-thumping for jobs and the fact it plays perfectly into B.C.'s long-held desire to transform Kitimat/Prince Rupert into a hub for energy exports to Asia.

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And this is the same Christy Clark who dissed a previous federal environmental review that caused the Conservative government to reject approval of the Taseko gold mine near Williams Lake.

But Gateway is not Taseko, and Ms. Clark knows it.

Not only does the pipeline route cross the traditional territories of scores of B.C. native groups, all of whom are opposed to the project, it would mean more than 200 oil supertankers a year making their way through the same narrow channels that claimed the Queen of the North ferry in 2006.

British Columbians don't agree on much, but on the prospect of oil tankers plying their pristine coastline, polls have shown opposition as high as 80 per cent.

In B.C., Gateway is one of those precarious, hot potato issues from which even the relentlessly-upbeat Ms. Clark shies. The longer she can avoid taking a stand, the better for her politically.

One's own political skin trumps leadership sisterhood every time. Sorry, Ms. Redford.

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