Federal party leaders headed West seeking pipeline advantage

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OTTAWA — The two major federal opposition leaders are heading west this summer hoping to take advantage of the hostility of many British Columbians for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

But Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau might want to reconsider making the $7.9 billion megaproject a central campaign plank in the 2015 election campaign, warns Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s B.C. lieutenant.

James Moore said both opponents risk sharing the fate of former provincial New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix, who in 2013 blew a huge lead in the polls and was rejected by voters after deciding to oppose Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion.

“If Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair want to take the Adrian Dix approach to saying no to any development in Western Canada and particularly in British Columbia in the next election, they’re going to have the same outcome in the next election as Adrian Dix did,” said Moore, who in 2012 harshly criticized Enbridge for its clumsy attempts to win public support for the pipeline megaproject.

“The public (according to polls) is split on the matter. But what the public is not split on is the idea of politicians is being reflexively against any development in British Columbia. They always reject that.”

Moore was subjected last month to several days of ridicule as opposition MPs, and especially Mulcair, accused him and B.C.’s other Tory MPs of “hiding” from the media rather than defending the government’s support of Northern Gateway.

Instead, the government relied on cautious statements from Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, who said only that the government was endorsing Enbridge’s project subject to it meeting 209 conditions imposed by a federal review panel in December.

Moore, the industry minister, dismissed the notion he was dodging responsibility to speak on a major B.C. issue. He noted that it’s standard practice for the minister responsible for the decision, in this case Rickford, to speak for the government on any matter under his or her responsibility.

Moore was asked if he believes Enbridge has, since the company’s darkest moments in 2012 after a U.S. regulator lambasted the company, made strides in winning “social licence” to proceed with the $7.9 billion project.

“I do, and certainly part of the 209 conditions speak to the concerns raised by the public that are now embedded in the conditions for them to move forward, and those conditions have to be met.”

Both Mulcair and Trudeau are planning B.C. visits in August, while Harper has tentative plans to head to the West Coast sometime this summer, according to an official in his office.

The province is seen as a battleground in part because B.C. got six new seats in the latest electoral boundary distribution, raising the total to 42. Five of those new seats are in the Greater Vancouver area, while the other is on Vancouver Island.

The Tories have 21 seats, the NDP 12, the Liberals two and the Green party one, leader Elizabeth May. If the new map had been used in the 2011 election the Conservatives would have won 28 seats, the NDP 11, the Liberals two and the Greens one.

Harper’s party won its seats in 2011 with just under 46 per cent of the vote in B.C., while currently polls indicate the party is at around the 33 per cent level — a steep plunge but still ahead of the Liberals and NDP, both at 28 per cent, according to data compiled by poll analyst Eric Grenier.

While both Mulcair and Trudeau are adamantly opposed to the Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, they differ in their approach to Kinder Morgan’s $5.4 billion plan to build a pipeline that will triple capacity to its facility in Burnaby.

Trudeau has spoken vaguely about being potentially more favourable towards the project, saying he believes the company may show it has learned from Enbridge’s mistakes.

Mulcair, by contrast, said the current federal review of the Kinder Morgan initiative is tainted due to restrictions imposed which prevent cross-examination of witnesses.

Moore saved his most scathing criticism for Trudeau, ridiculing the Liberal leader’s condemnation of Gateway, his on-the-fence view toward Kinder Morgan project, and his wholehearted endorsement of Trans Canada Pipeline’s proposed project to ship crude oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“Justin Trudeau’s approach to this is laughable. I mean, he says he’s in favour of Keystone but he’s against Enbridge but he’s maybe in favour of Kinder Morgan, but will wait and see.

“Well, actually, no. Responsible governments don’t pick and chose energy projects based on public opinion polls. You have to have an evidence-based, science-based approach to these things that listens to independent panel recommendations.”

Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s finance critic and a prominent West Coast MP, rejected the notion the NDP is on the wrong side of public opinion.

“The Conservatives have wedded themselves to irresponsible development and have to pay the political price,” he told The Sun.

“We believe there is a safe way to ship oil and it must be done with the support of local communities and First Nations, add value and create jobs, and pass a real environmental review. This is what the vast majority of BC voters want.”