NDP leader Adrian Dix is noticeably frustrated by Premier Christy Clark's steadfast refusal to take a position on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, and it's not hard to see why.
Unless there is a radical shift in public opinion, Dix will assume Clark's job after next spring's election. But, even as premier, he may find himself powerless to have any impact at all on the final decision on Enbridge.
The joint review panel's hearings on the pipeline proposal are scheduled to end next April, about a month before the election. A final decision on the project is expected some time next year.
But the B.C. government has chosen to register as an "Intervenor" in the hearing process, and not as a "Government Participant", which reduces any role it can play in the hearings.
Interestingly, Alberta - where the proposed pipeline would originate - has registered as a "Government Participant", and so is able to present its arguments and positions on an issue that is of vital economic importance to that province (a number of federal departments and agencies, plus towns along the proposed pipeline route - including Kitimat and Fort St. James - have also registered as "government participants").
A legal analysis recently released by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria has raised concerns that B.C.'s own interests may not be adequately considered by the review panel, as a result of the B.C. government's refusal to play a role in the hearings.
"While the Joint Review Panel has received evidence from the Alberta government as to the project's benefits (particularly for Alberta oil producers) it has received no evidence from the B.C. government as to its costs and impacts for British Columbia," write the report's authors, Chris Tollefson and Emma Hume.
"There is growing concern that this imbalance in the evidence submitted to the hearing may adversely affect the ability of the JRP to weigh the costs and benefits of the project, and to fully consider B.C.'s interests," they conclude.
Clark has insisted her government may present evidence sometime in the future, but the deadline for submissions has already passed. The UVic report concludes it is by no means certain, or even probable, that the panel will agree to hear evidence from B.C. at a later date.
In fact, the report suggests the longer the B.C. government waits to attempt to submit evidence, the less likelihood the panel will agree to consider it.
However, Clark has shown no signs of changing her government's position any time soon.
So it's no coincidence that Dix has circulated an op-ed piece demanding that Clark make her government's views known on an issue that has emerged as perhaps the most critical environmental showdown this province has seen in decades.
Dix notes Clark has said B.C. is taking "100 per cent of the risks" yet gets little benefit from the Enbridge project, and points out Clark has stated she is "pro-pipeline."
"This contradictory stance can only be interpreted as a deliberate strategy of a premier who wants the Enbridge pipeline to proceed, but doesn't want to say so," Dix writes.
Dix and his NDP caucus have, of course, written to the National Energy Board, outlining their reasons for opposing the project. But he no doubt realizes that even if he were to win the next election, he may not have any further opportunity to push B.C.'s interests into the debate over the final decision on the pipeline.
And that's proving frustrating for him. Nevertheless, expect the pipeline project to loom large in the next election campaign.
Clark may finally have taken a position on the project by then. But it may well be too late to have an impact on the final decision on whether the pipeline is built or not.
. On a personal note, allow me to express my sorrow over the recent death of former NDP MLA Bill Barlee - historian, teacher, politician, prospector, and tennis fanatic.
Kind, funny, inquisitive and relentlessly optimistic, Barlee was one of the real characters of B.C. politics, and we became friends and constant tennis opponents and partners (our games were punctuated by his constant chatter of baffling sayings, such as "you may come home", or "many a woman has walked the streets of Amsterdam"). A ball was never out; it was always "an inch and two tenths wide." Needless to say, he was also fiercely competitive.
B.C. has lost one of its original treasures.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.
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