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The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is a good idea, to judge from the information available thus far. But the regulatory process should go ahead and hear all concerns in an evenhanded way, as that process was designed to do. The federal government's warnings about foreign influences and "environmental and other radical groups" are exaggerated.

Canada needs to trade with diverse markets, and China will have a huge appetite for oil for a long time to come. The pipeline, transporting petroleum from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat, B.C., where it can be loaded on to ocean tankers, would serve the Asian market. Better access to international markets (not only through Gateway) could add $131-billion to this country's gross domestic product between 2016 and 2030, and $27-billion in tax revenues, a paper published by the University of Calgary's School of Policy studies argues.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was circumspect when he spoke with this newspaper's editorial board in late October. He did not specifically endorse the pipeline, but said he would respect the regulatory process evaluating the project. Now, though, as that evaluation is beginning in B.C., he denounced "environmental and other radical groups" who "threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda." They "use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest," he said in an open letter. They even, if all else fails, "will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further."

All this noise about foreign money, U.S. special interests and the U.S. approach of using the courts – it almost sounds like anti-Americanism. It's a bogeyman, though not terribly frightening. There is no reason to think the independent panel reviewing the pipeline will be hijacked. In fact, any sign that people are not given a fair chance to be heard would make court action all the more likely to succeed. There are legitimate concerns about oil tankers and the possibility of a spill. The government should respect the process enough not to heap scorn on the participants.