Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One.
I'm not much for predictions, especially when it comes to B.C. politics – but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that both the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Site C dam will, in the end, go ahead. Depending on where you stand, that may be either a tragedy or cause for celebration – or something in between.
In the same way the BC Liberals have heard the message that they need to do more to win the hearts and votes of people living in urban areas, the NDP has no doubt heard the message that it needs to do more to win support outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. Killing 2,200 jobs and throwing away the $2-billion already spent on Site C is not the way to win that support and only confirms the BC Liberal narrative that the NDP, with the help of the Green Party, are out to kill jobs.
This week, the NDP fulfilled its promise to ask the B.C. Utilities Commission to review the $8.8-billion project, something critics say should have been done long ago by the BC Liberals. Provincial Energy Minister Michelle Mungall says the commission will be tasked with determining whether the project is likely to come in on time and on budget and to look at its "economic viability and the consequences to British Columbians."
The fact that the NDP is allowing construction on the dam to continue, pending the results of the review, should be a clue about where they're headed.
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver initially supported the project when it was launched in 2010, but has since changed his mind. Now, Mr. Weaver says he wants a decision made "with the best information available."
Whether the project is – in the longer term – a good deal or a bad deal for British Columbians remains to be seen, but it is so far out the gate and the optics of laying off workers so destructive that I suspect it will go ahead. And because the decision rests with a review panel, Premier John Horgan won't have to wear it.
On the Kinder Morgan file, the considerations are more complicated since the project has already won both federal and provincial approval and is being promoted as "in the national interest" by both the federal government and Alberta's NDP. It's a topic that was mostly avoided during a recent meeting between Mr. Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. When asked about it at a news conference that followed the meeting, Mr. Trudeau offered up platitudes about "growing the economy while protecting the environment." Mr. Horgan talked about "meeting with officials to look at permitting" and "managing those issues in the fullness of time."
Mr. Horgan and Mr. Weaver have – more than once – vowed to use every tool at their disposal to stop the pipeline from moving forward, but it appears that Mr. Horgan's position has shifted.
During an interview with CBC Radio's The House last weekend, he was asked: "Is it still your position that this pipeline should not proceed?" Instead of offering a clear answer, Mr. Horgan talked about tanker traffic, a review of the province's legal position and permits, and the potential impact on First Nations.
The interviewer tried again: "Are you going to try and stop it and use the force of the provincial government to block this pipeline?" Again, Mr. Horgan talked about addressing the legal remedies and reconciliation with First Nations – but avoided a direct answer.
Even when confronted with the mandate letter sent to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, Mr. Horgan bobbed and weaved. The letter instructs the minister to "employ every tool available" not to stop the pipeline but rather "to defend B.C.'s interests in the face of he expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and the threat of a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic."
Mr. Horgan explained the letter was worded that way because the NDP is the government and not the opposition, and avoiding litigation is important.
I don't envy the position Mr. Horgan finds himself in – caught in the classic jobs versus the environment and First Nations concerns conundrum.
But both issues, Site C and Kinder Morgan are so complicated, with so many players, competing interests, jurisdictional issues and political considerations that, in the end, when they do both go ahead, Mr. Horgan may be able to argue that final decision wasn't his to make.
He can only hope that Mr. Weaver buys it.