The B.C. Liberals finally took a qualified stance on oil pipelines Monday, but it only highlights the secretive reticence that has prevailed to date.
If the new pipeline "requirements" are such a big deal, why aren't they being submitted to the joint review panel that is holding crucial hearings into the Enbridge pipeline?
Two of the five requirements are directly related to the environmental aspect that the panel is examining.
But if those experts want to ascertain B.C.'s position, they'll just have to read the news releases like everyone else. B.C. isn't submitting its new stance as evidence because it can't - the deadline for doing so passed last year.
Monday's announcement acknowledges all sorts of concerns about the twinned line across B.C. to Kitimat.
But they aren't expressed where it counts - in front of the panel. B.C. hasn't submitted any evidence at all.
It isn't even registered as a government participant, choosing to sign up as an "intervener," for reasons to do with flexibility. I've had this explained to me several times and I still don't get it. Half the pipeline would travel through B.C. and a new oil port would be built in the province. But the government opts not to register as a full participant in the hearings. There's "flexibility" and then there's copping out to avoid having to take a stand.
The striking thing about Monday's pipeline statement made by two cabinet ministers is how little weight it carries.
It boils down to a wish list of things that might make the proposal look more attractive than it does now. If B.C. was dealt into the billions in benefits, if First Nations were bought or brought on side; if safety standards were upgraded and if the federal joint review panel approves it, then B.C. would consider supporting the project.
It was also notable that the pipeline stance was taken by cabinet ministers Terry Lake and Mary Polak, rather than Premier Christy Clark.
She tipped reporters last week that more information was coming soon on how B.C. would be intervening in the hearing process. But when it came to actually outlining the intervention, the chosen time coincided with her travel day to a Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax.
And the release followed her comically inept appearance in Alberta late last week, where she arranged a secret meeting with Premier Alison Redford about the Enbridge line.
Alberta media found out about it and ridiculed the secrecy of the session. (A decoy car?) And Redford fumed publicly later about Clark's refusal to take a stand in support of the project. Clark has also reportedly had a recent phone conversation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the pipeline, again, obviously private.
Even stranger, while B.C. issued an elaborate series of points to ponder about pipelines, it is still fighting to protect a technical report on the Enbridge line from the prying eyes of coastal First Nations who want to see it.
They got wind of the report several weeks ago and asked the panel to order B.C. to produce it.
But B.C. insists it should stay secret, saying the report is privileged and subject to "public interest immunity." As well, the document is protected by "litigation privilege," claims the government, with the panel process itself being considered as the litigation.
"Although the province has not yet stated its position ... it must be allowed, as have other parties, to prepare its case by confidentially obtaining information for that purpose."
So the technical report is still secret at this point, although chunks of it are probably buried in the background documents released Monday.
The one key point made is about the financial inequity. B.C. would host half the risk of an oil spill on land and all the risk of a marine spill. But it would get just eight per cent of the tax revenues from such a pipeline over a generation.
That's where the argument will focus, and it started immediately.
Alberta's Redford issued a statement that was heavy on the national interest and dismissive of B.C.'s stance that the sharing is unfair.
Pipelines are the safest possible way to move oil and environmental risks have been significantly mitigated, she said.
And that weakens B.C.'s argument for compensation based on risk.
She quite pointedly noted: "Leadership is not about dividing Canadians and pitting one province against another - leadership is about working together."
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