British Columbia

Christy Clark's re-election renews pipeline debate

The unexpected victory by Christy Clark and her Liberal Party in B.C.'s provincial election has renewed the divisive debate over pipelines.

Energy industry hopes for improved B.C.-Alberta relationship

Opponents of new pipelines are undeterred by B.C. Liberals' win 1:52

The unexpected victory by Christy Clark and her Liberal Party in B.C.’s provincial election has renewed the divisive debate over pipelines.

The NDP said it would put the brakes on two pipelines from Alberta to the West Coast, saying the risks to the environment are too great and the economic benefits too small.

But Clark, speaking to reporters on Wednesday about her election win and her priorities, said one reason for her re-election was her decision to keep the door open to pipelines if conditions can be met.

"The idea that you're going to say no to economic development before you even see it — I think that was part of it, the issue of who was going to say yes to economic development," she said.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines would bring jobs to B.C., especially during the construction phase.

But the projects also bring environmental risk on land and offshore, with a huge jump in oil tanker traffic off the province’s coast.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says the province's economy is a priority for her party. (CBC)

Federal NDP energy and natural resources critic Peter Julian said there's tremendous opposition to the pipelines within B.C.

Julian, who is the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, said Clark's re-election isn't necessarily a mandate for the projects to go ahead — despite pressure from Alberta and the federal government.

"I don't think this changes anything," he said.

"As newly re-elected premier, she has to be cautious about public opinion. British Columbians have been very clear — they don't see this in our environmental or economic interests."

‘A smarter discussion’

Many Albertans were rooting for the B.C. Liberals because they are seen as more friendly to Alberta's energy industry. Getting Alberta bitumen to B.C.'s coast is critical to Alberta's economy.

B.C.'s 5 conditions for Northern Gateway support

  1. Environmental review needs to be passed.
  2. World-leading marine oil spill prevention, response.
  3. World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response.
  4. First Nations opportunities, treaty rights respected.
  5. Fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits for B.C.

Rod Love, one of the organizers of a Calgary fundraiser for the B.C. Liberals earlier this year, said the premiers of B.C. and Alberta can now talk about pipelines without worrying about an election on their immediate horizons.

"With Christy Clark now getting a new mandate, I think we're able to have a smarter discussion about our common interest with respect to energy and getting product to market," he said.

Love said more than 130 companies were at the fundraiser for the B.C. Liberals in Calgary earlier this year — a clear sign many Alberta businesses will be celebrating the Liberal win.

He wouldn't say how much was raised at that event but records show Alberta companies donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the B.C. Liberals.

David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, acknowledged a Liberal government in B.C. is a good thing for Alberta.

"We know what we are working with as far as the policy environment — it’s a government that has been largely supportive of oil and gas issues, like West Coast access for oil," he said.

‘Personality conflicts’

Alberta Premier Alison Redford was quick to congratulate the Liberals on their win on social media — a gesture seen by some as a sign the relationship between the two premiers is beginning to thaw.

Tensions arose last fall after Clark demanded B.C. get its "fair share" from pipelines projects.

University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper said repairing that relationship likely won't happen overnight.

"They do have personality conflicts, and they do have conflicts in interest, and it's the second that is the real problem," he said.

Cooper predicts the federal government will have to intervene if controversial energy projects like the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline are to go ahead.

"And whether or not Stephen Harper wants to jeopardize his chances in B.C. is also up in the air."

While many hope relations between the two provinces and their premiers will improve, Julian said New Democrats in B.C. and at the federal level will be hammering away on the issue in the months ahead.

In the B.C. legislature, the election also brought in a new anti-pipeline, anti-tanker voice: the province's first Green Party member of the legislative assembly, climate scientist Andrew Weaver — a fierce critic of oil-based economies.