BC Premier Christy Clark (L) and Alberta Premier Alison Redford speak to media during a joint press availability in Calgary, Friday October 21, 2011.
Credits: JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY
Christy Clark is engaging in political posturing, pure and simple.
Sure, when the B.C. premier says her government will stand in the way of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline unless B.C. is given a bigger share of Alberta's royalty pie, she is conducting a good, old-fashioned shakedown, too.
Still, Clark's announcement Monday of the conditions that must be met before her government will agree to let the $5.5-billion project be built across her province is mostly about politics, not money.
British Columbia has fixed dates for provincial elections. The next one is scheduled for May 2013. At the moment it would appear that Clark's Liberals have little hope of being re-elected.
Even before Clark became premier in March 2011, her party was so tainted with voters that its re-election seemed unlikely. A series of scandals and controversies - such as dishonest campaigns to sell voters on a carbon tax and on a blended federal-provincial HST - had blown the Liberals' credibility. Try as she might, Clark has done little to restore voter confidence.
Add to that the fact that while Clark's government is believed to be largely in favour of Northern Gateway, B.C. is the only province in which polls indicate the public is mostly opposed.
So what then is an unpopular premier, leading an unpopular government backing an unpopular project to do? Of course, she has to pretend she is opposed to it.
There isn't much Clark can do to stop Northern Gateway.
The constitution gives decision-making authority over pipelines, railways, interprovincial highways and other national transportation systems to the federal government.
Above and beyond that, the B.C. government signed a deal over a year ago to abide by the outcome of the federal assessment being conducted by a National Energy Board (NEB) panel due to be completed in Dec. 2013.
Indeed, there would appear to be so few options open to B.C. that Adrian Dix, the NDP leader who will almost certainly replace Clark as premier next spring, has already assembled a team of socialist legal scholars to advise him on what steps, if any, a New Democrat government could take to stop the line.
Reportedly, the best Dix's advisers have come up with so far are delaying tactics they hope might postpone completion of Northern Gateway from 2016 until 2018 or 2019. By then, their hope is the economic viability of the project will be jeopardized and Calgary's Enbridge Corporation, owners of Gateway, will walk away. Clark's main conditions for approving the project are largely reasonable.
Monday, she said the project must first receive a favourable environmental assessment from the NEB. Then Enbridge and Ottawa must ensure "world-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.'s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments," plus the same for any ruptures that occur over land or rivers. After Enbridge's disastrous handling of a break in its pipeline in Kalamazoo, Mich. in 2010, this is hardly a radical request.
Friday, Enbridge announced it will, if it receives approval for Gateway, spend an extra $500 million thickening the pipeline's walls where it crosses sensitive areas such as rivers and streams. It will also increase the number of remotely-operated isolation valves, ensure pumping stations in remote areas are manned 24/7 and increase the frequency of pipeline inspections to 50% above industry standards. That will ensure any leak is detected and stopped quickly.
But Clark's sensible requests were overshadowed by her shakedown attempt - an attempt that will almost certainly fail because it lacks legal backing.
Which leaves one simple conclusion: Clark's huff-and-puff act is purely political theatrics designed to help her party avoid defeat next spring.