IN THE NEWS ~ Science, not economics, will determine fate of pipeline, Harper says

By Jason Fekete, Postmedia News, Vancouver Sun (duplicate Ottawa Citizen)

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says science — not politics — will  ultimately determine whether the Northern Gateway pipeline proceeds, and he is  refusing to get into an argument with British Columbia about how to share “hypothetical revenues” from the project.

Harper also maintains it’s “in the vital interest” of British Columbia and  Canada to diversify export markets with infrastructure projects that can help  get Canadian resources to Asia.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has set five economic and  environmental conditions that must be met — including B.C. receiving its “fair  share” of economic benefits from Ottawa and Alberta — before her government will  support the $5.5-billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Speaking Tuesday on the issue for the first time since B.C. outlined its  demands, Harper said the project is being independently assessed by the National  Energy Board joint review panel and that his government “does not pick and  choose particular projects.”

Yet, the Conservative government announced in the spring that cabinet, and  not the National Energy Board, will now make the final decision on pipeline  projects in the “national interest” — including the Northern Gateway.

Harper insisted Tuesday that a decision on major projects such as the  Northern Gateway will be made independently by scientists examining the “economic costs and risks” associated with the project.

“The only way that governments 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,” Harper told reporters at  a news conference in Vancouver.

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

Asked about the Gateway project and B.C.’s demands, Harper said “it’s  obviously in the vital interest of Canada and in the vital interest of British  Columbia” to diversify export markets into Asia, although he wouldn’t name a  specific project.

“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,” he added.

B.C.’s conditions, which also include world-class environmental response and  co-operation with First Nations, apply as well to Kinder Morgan’s proposed  $4.1-billion expansion to its 60-year-old Trans Mountain line that would also  carry oilsands crude to the West Coast.

Research conducted for the B.C. government says the Northern Gateway pipeline  would generate $81 billion in provincial and federal tax revenue over a 30-year  period, with B.C. receiving only $6.7 billion — or 8.2 per cent. Approximately  $36 billion of the revenue would go to the federal government and $32 billion to  Alberta, with Saskatchewan receiving the largest portion among the remaining  provinces, at nearly $4 billion.

The pipelines, which are unpopular with British Columbians, are producing a  political headache for the federal Conservative government.

Harper has repeatedly identified new pipelines, such as the Northern Gateway,  as key priorities for his government, and as critical pieces of infrastructure  needed to help Canada expand its energy export markets beyond the United  States.

The federal Conservative government has set a Dec. 31, 2013 deadline for the  NEB joint review panel examining the Northern Gateway pipeline to submit its  environmental assessment and report on the project.

The 1,172-kilometre Gateway pipeline would transport oilsands crude from  northern Alberta to the port of Kitimat, B.C., where the product would be loaded  onto supertankers and shipped to Asian markets.

The issue is politically dicey for a Harper government that holds 21 seats in  British Columbia and is looking to fend off Tom Mulcair’s NDP, which opposes the  Northern Gateway pipeline and has been surging in the polls.

NDP natural resources critic Peter Julian said Tuesday there’s “a huge  contradiction” between the prime minister’s words and his government’s actions,  noting cabinet’s power to now make decisions on major pipeline projects like the  Gateway.

“Cabinet can override by dictate, can impose it on British Columbians,” said  Julian, a B.C. member of Parliament. “It’s profound disrespect for British  Columbians.”

Julian said Harper and his ministers are softening their words on the Gateway  when speaking in British Columbia, but continue to press hard for the project  back in Ottawa.

An Angus Reid poll released last week showed more than half of British  Columbians oppose the Northern Gateway, but could be swayed to eventually  support it, with opposition also strong against the Kinder Morgan line.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford has already rejected B.C.’s demands for a  share of her province’s royalties or tax revenue from the Northern Gateway  project, arguing it would effectively rewrite the rules of Confederation.

At least three senior federal ministers have also spoken out against either  the B.C. government’s “fair share” ultimatum or Enbridge’s environmental  commitment to the project.

jfekete@postmedia.com Twitter.com/jasonfekete