IN THE NEWS ~ Pipeline will be decided by independent panel, not politics, says PM

By Dene Moore, The Canadian Press / Times Colonist (duplicates in The Leader-Post (Regina); The Starphoenix (Saskatoon); The Province, AB; Waterloo Region Record; Guelph Mercury, AB; The Chronicle Herald; Red Deer Advocate; The Lethbridge Herald; The Daily News (Nanaimo); Prince George Citizen;

VANCOUVER — Prime Minister Stephen Harper was unabashed Tuesday about his  support for the Northern Gateway project that would see a pipeline deliver crude  from the Alberta oilsands to a port on the B.C. coast. But Harper said science,  not politics, will decide the fate of the controversial pipeline proposed by  Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB).

“We think it’s obviously in the vital  interests of Canada, and in the vital interests of British Columbia,” Harper  said following an announcement in Vancouver.

“As Canada’s Asia-Pacific  gateway, the economic growth we expect to have here in the future is going to be  based on commerce with the Asia-Pacific region and we think it’s important that  we continue to diversify our exports through this province.”

But Harper  rejected any suggestion that the $6-billion project is a done deal, as far as  his Conservative government is concerned.

“I’ve been very clear that  decisions on these kinds of projects are made through an independent evaluation  conducted by scientists into the economic costs and risks that are associated  with the project, and that’s how we conduct our business,” Harper told  reporters.

He said his government has already invested in environment  surveillance and mitigation of environmental risk, and will make further  investments in the future, though he offered no specifics and took only a few  questions from the contingent of media waiting to question the prime minister on  the pipeline issue.

“I think that’s the only way that government can  handle controversial projects of this manner, is to ensure that things are  evaluated on an independent basis, scientifically, and not simply on political  criteria.”

Ottawa wants to see B.C.’s export trade grow and diversity, he  said, but the proposal will be evaluated on its own merits.

But Peter  Julian, the Opposition New Democrats’ natural resources critic, said nothing  could be further from the truth.

“Here’s a government that has gutted the  environmental assessment process and the (National Energy Board) process, so  that politics trump science, trying to tell British Columbians that well, in  fact, science will play a bigger role than politics. It’s clearly not the case,” Julian said.

Under the revamped environmental assessment process, a  government decree in favour of the project is inevitable, Julian  said.

This is the same government that in the last budget cut Environment  Canada’s Environmental Emergencies Program office in British Columbia, which  co-ordinates the clean-up of oil spills in federal jurisdiction including the  offshore, he said.

Harper is simply trying to assuage British Columbian  voters, who Julian believes are overwhelmingly opposed to the  project.

“What we have is a federal government that, though it’s using  soft words out here in B.C., is doing everything it can to try to ram it down  the throats of British Columbians and I don’t believe that will work,” he  said.

The proposal by Enbridge would see twin pipelines deliver diluted  bitumen over 1,170 kilometres from the oilsands in northern Alberta to a  terminal to be built for tankers near Kitimat, B.C.

The federal  environmental review process got underway in January, and last week Ottawa set a  Dec. 31, 2013 deadline for the assessment to be complete.

The process  ignited tensions over the project that grew worse last month when the U.S.  National Transportation Safety Board criticized Enbridge’s response to the spill  of millions of litres of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River on July 25, 2010,  affecting more than 50 kilometres of waterways and wetlands.

Shortly  after the damning report, Enbridge announced it would invest another $500  million in safety improvements to the Northern Gateway pipeline but the Canadian  pipeline giant continues to see opposition to its proposal.

Many  aboriginal groups in B.C. have vowed to fight Northern Gateway, and next week,  delegates at the United Church of Canada general council meeting in Ottawa will  debate a resolution calling on the church to reject construction of the  proposal.

Even the provincial government ended its neutral stance on the  project, demanding strict environmental protections and a greater share of  royalties.

Harper said he has spoken to B.C. Premier Christy Clark about  the issue, but that was all he would say.

“I’m not going to obviously  share with you any private conversations I’ve had with any premier, and I have  discussed this with the premier of British Columbia and other premiers,” he said  in response to questions about Clark.

“I’m not going to get into an  argument or a discussion about how we divide hypothetical revenues.”

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