The Peak (Simon Fraser University)
BURNABY (CUP) — Recently, in response to both the Alberta and federal governments pushing for Calgary-based Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to be built through the province, B.C. premier Christy Clark issued a set of five criteria that the project must meet in order for the province to allow it.
Three of the five criteria focus on the protection of the environment. The other two terms deal with B.C.’s financial compensation and the rights of the First Nations who will be affected.
Though the terms laid are far from ideal and will likely do little to slow the project, let alone stop it, they represent the provincial government doing what it can with the little influence it has.
Criticism of the government’s criteria has come from a variety of sources. Many, notably the Alberta provincial government, say B.C. should not block such a large economic development. Environmentalists are displeased as well, suggesting that the B.C. government needs to refuse the project outright rather than allow it to happen under specific circumstances.
However, the B.C. government understands that with the current attitudes of both the federal and Alberta governments, this project is likely to happen whether environmentalists and provincial governments are on board or not.
Given the federal government’s enthusiasm for this project, the best the B.C. government can do is stall it in order to ensure that any spills will be cleaned up as efficiently as possible and milk it for what it’s worth. After all, the oil revenues will largely return to Alberta while B.C. has to shoulder the environmental costs of having oil tankers shipping out along the craggy coastline that is also home to a huge fishing industry.
One thing environmentalists should like is B.C.’s inclusion of terms demanding an expedient, efficient cleanup. It is highly probable that there will be a spill along the proposed pipeline at some point; Enbridge recorded 610 oil spills between 1999 and 2010.
When that happens, the best thing opponents of the project can hope for will be an expedient clean-up with as little damage to the environment as possible, and for those responsible for the project to be held accountable. Premier Clark’s criteria aim to ensure this happens.
The criteria have actually put the federal government in a difficult place and could take them out of the decision-making process to some degree. If the Tories push the project through without accepting the terms, they will likely suffer a blow to their popularity, both in B.C. and among anyone resentful of the Harper government’s sometimes forceful approach to governing. However, if they validate the terms they risk offending their base, as well as Enbridge.
This might have pushed the federal government toward supporting B.C.’s demands, but they already know that even with this move they would never win over environmentally conscious voters.
Probably the best thing that the B.C. government did to prevent the federal government from pushing the project through was to involve groups other than environmentalists. The government’s terms mean that anyone trying to push aside the criteria is essentially attempting to push aside First Nations’ rights, almost certainly offending First Nations groups across the country.
The consideration of aboriginal rights may not stop this government, just as it has rarely slowed others before it from advancing their agendas, but it means that, come election day, they may feel its consequences.
Although B.C. may not be the source of the oil heading through the pipeline, it will bear most of the risk for it. As such, it deserves to be rightfully compensated and given a say in how the project will move forward. We’re facing an uphill battle, but at least B.C. is doing what it can.