Les Leyne: Pipeline will be a major election issue

Les Leyne mugshot genericPremier Christy Clark watched Prime Minister Justin Trudeau make an audacious gamble on Tuesday, then made one of her own on Wednesday.

After four years of sitting out the argument while citing conditions that have to be met, she all but confirmed the B.C. Liberals will endorse the Trans Mountain pipeline.

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It sets up a clear difference between the main parties on an environmental showdown. The B.C. Liberals will almost certainly support a tripling of the crude oil flowing to the Lower Mainland and being shipped out to sea. They’ll cite the jobs and the multibillion-dollar benefits it will bring, to both B.C. and the country.

New Democrats, after years of hedging their bets, are going to oppose it, because the environmental risk is too great, a position the B.C. Greens have held throughout.

It won’t be the defining issue, but the environmental lobby’s communication clout will make it one of the highest-visibility ones. They’re about to find out if their issues are as important to voters as they think they are.

Clark isn’t 100 per cent on board yet. There are technical details about new marine-safety regimes to be worked out. The crucial question of an ongoing payment to B.C. for the risk incurred has to be resolved.

But it’s hard to imagine the project didn’t get the full and final approval from Trudeau without some understanding that B.C.’s subject-tos are manageable. A review by the environmental-assessment office is in the works, and Clark said it will be finished soon.

So Wednesday she started preparing to campaign for the project. The five conditions she set (regulatory approvals, First Nations involvement, world-class safety standards on land and sea, and a fair share for B.C.) were always “a path to get to yes,” she said.

“I’m very pleased with the progress that we’ve made, that those projects have made, and that the federal government has made in ensuring they meet the five conditions.”

By her count, they’ve been met or are close to being addressed, “but we aren’t quite there yet.”

On the instant backlash that greeted the federal approval, Clark said the coast is more at risk today with a totally inadequate coast guard than it will be in a few years with improved response capabilities “and perhaps more oil movement.”

The other side of the house appears anxious and uncertain about how this is going to play out, if NDP Leader John Horgan’s reaction Wednesday was any indication.

Former leader Adrian Dix got burned on the issue in 2013, when his stand against the line was blamed for losing rural votes.

Horgan talked about procedural arguments from years gone by and was unclear about exactly where the party stands. He also downplayed the political importance, saying there are many other issues to talk about, such as affordability and housing.

Last week, he was much more definitive, saying it’s not in the public interest “to have a super-export port, a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic out of the Lower Mainland.

“My constituents don’t want to see more tankers, I don’t want to see more tankers.”

On Wednesday, he downplayed the fact that the NDP government in Alberta has the exact opposite view of the pipeline, saying he and Premier Rachel Notley are good friends, but have different responsibilities. It’s rare to see neighbouring NDP clans with numerous close ties so diametrically opposed on a major issue.

Horgan also downplayed the prospect of an anti-pipeline vote migrating to the Green Party, at the NDP’s expense. Greens started a fundraising pitch keyed off the pipeline decision within minutes of Trudeau’s announcement. “Donate now, so the NDP and the Liberals know exactly where you stand.”

Metro Vancouver is the epicentre of the protest movement. But Clark showed no concern about political risks. If Liberals lose support there, it won’t be the first time Vancouver has turned its back on Clark.

Just So You Know: Clark added an unofficial sixth condition Wednesday: She wants Trudeau to come to B.C. and “share the thinking, talk to the people about why it’s in the national interest.” Notley will be the warmup act for the pipeline push next week, but it’s still going to be a tough sell.


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