The federal government has agreed to let Enbridge build its Northern Gateway pipeline, subject to 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board and further talks with aboriginal communities.
Enbridge wants to build the pipeline from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C.
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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called it "folly" and "pure madness" to think anyone can put supertankers in British Columbia's Douglas Channel.
Both Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said they would reverse the decision to accept the National Energy Board's pipeline approval. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, environmental groups and First Nations reacted quickly to news of the federal approval, releasing statements opposing it.
Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge, said in a teleconference with reporters that the economic benefits of the pipeline are straightforward, but the company has some work to do in convincing the public.
"If we can't prove our safety and environmental protection, the economic benefits won't matter," Monaco said. "In other words, the economic benefits alone are not enough to sustain public support."
B.C. Conservative MPs 'hiding,' Mulcair says
Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, whose office announced the decision to allow the pipeline, wasn't available for interviews on Tuesday. The announcement was made in a news release with no ministerial press conference.
Enbridge has to show the NEB how it will meet the 209 conditions and has to apply for more permits from the federal and provincial governments, Rickford said in the news release.
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"In addition, consultations with aboriginal communities are required under many of the 209 conditions that have been established and as part of the process for regulatory authorizations and permits. The proponent [Enbridge] clearly has more work to do in order to fulfil the public commitment it has made to engage with aboriginal groups and local communities along the route."
Mulcair said Conservative MPs from British Columbia are "hiding under their desks right now" because the pipeline is already an election issue in the province.
Nathan Cullen, the NDP's finance critic and an MP who represents an area the pipeline would traverse, said the approval is "an arrogant, Ottawa-based" decision.
"Conservative MPs know that. They will be held to account for this," Cullen said.
Trudeau said the pipeline threatens the province's coastal economy and the jobs of thousands of people who live on the ocean.
"This government has actually hindered our ability to get our resources to market by not doing its homework … not building the right kinds of partnerships with communities," Trudeau said.
Conditions not met
Art Sterritt, executive director of British Columbia's Coastal First Nations, said he's looking to B.C. Premier Christy Clark to stop the project. In a news release, Sterritt warned that First Nations are weighing a range of legal and direct action responses, but will wait to see what Enbridge does.
"We’ll see if Enbridge dares to put its shovels in the ground," Sterritt said in the release. "First Nations and our allies will protect our rights and the interests of future generations. We will never allow oil tankers into our territorial waters."
Clark has the power to grant or deny dozens of other permits for its construction. Her government has set out five conditions she expects to be met before allowing the Northern Gateway pipeline to be built across British Columbia.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province's conditions haven't changed and its five conditions haven't been met.
"There is still much work to be done if a Northern Gateway pipeline is ever to be built in British Columbia," she said.
"We need to see world-leading spill capability for response and remediation on land. We need to see world-leading marine-spill response. We need to see appropriate relationships and opportunities provided for First Nations and we need to see British Columbia getting its fair share since we are taking so much of the risk."
Polak said Enbridge had submitted its own conditions during its hearing at the federal government's Joint Review Panel, bringing the total conditions to around 400.
"Our position is no ... there are conditions that need to be met if that position is to be changed."
'Will not be built'
Enbridge's Monaco said the company has set three priorities:
- Complete the work to satisfy the 209 conditions.
- Continue to work with B.C. to respond to its five conditions.
- Continue to engage with B.C. communities and aboriginal groups "to build further trust where we haven't been able to do that to date."
"We don't see the decision as the final step, let's be clear about that. But it's one more step in the process," Monaco said.
The Dogwood Initiative, which says it's B.C.'s largest non-partisan democracy group, also called on Clark to reject the proposal.
"First Nations and the democratic majority of B.C. voters oppose Northern Gateway. Despite that, Ottawa still intends to ram it down our throat. Premier Clark’s only politically viable option is to join us in standing up for British Columbia,” spokesman Kai Nagata said in a news release.
Other groups asserted that despite the approval, the pipeline faces too many obstacles to be built.
"Approving the Northern Gateway pipeline rejects science, disrespects First Nations, ignores the Government of British Columbia and brushes aside the voices of millions of Canadians," Tim Gray, a spokesman for Environmental Defence, said in a news release.
"Despite cabinet’s approval, the pipeline will not be built. These conditions cannot be met — an approval with conditions is as good as a no. Opposition to the project will only grow louder and stronger every day. This project will be challenged in the courts and on the ground."
May said the terrain under which the pipeline would pass is rugged but fragile, making it extremely hard to clean up any spill.
"Every First Nation along the route opposes the project," she added.
More permits needed before construction can start
The federal approval is one more step in a long line of permits necessary for Enbridge to get access to the Pacific coast to ship crude to Asia.
The federal regulatory process began in May 2010 when Enbridge submitted its application to the National Energy Board.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in question period that Mulcair was trying to distract from what he called the NDP's opposition to resource development.
"The process we have in our government, in terms of environmental evaluations, we establish independent expert panels that follow a public and scientific process. When we've received the report from that process, we will make a decision obviously based on the facts in the not too distant future," Harper said.