We have grown accustomed to the government of Premier Christy Clark sitting on the fence with both ears on the ground. So, it comes as no surprise this week that its prerequisites for support of the Enbridge pipeline project raise more questions than they answer.
In fact, in the guise of offering conditions for the project to proceed, the government seems to be signalling that this heavy oil pipeline is dead in the water.
The five “minimum project requirements” are glaringly obvious: Successful completion of the National Energy Board (NEB) environmental review process, world-leading marine oil spill prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline, the same for land oil spills, the addressing of aboriginal and treaty requirements and a fair share of the economic benefits.
It staggers the imagination to figure out why it took Premier Clark’s brain trust so long to draw these lines in the oil sands. Further, the prospect that any or all of them can be achieved is slim and none.
Let’s start with the economics of the deal: the pipeline will generate $80 billion in provincial and federal taxation revenue over 30 years. That includes $36 billion for Ottawa and $32 billion for Alberta with B.C. getting less than $7 billion. To fly, this deal must pay B.C. a share commensurate with its risk, but Alberta has already refused to share its pipeline revenue and the feds will likely follow suit.
Second, there will never be measurable aboriginal support for a pipeline. In fact, we can anticipate that First Nations will mount a Supreme Court challenge if the NEB gives Enbridge the green light.
Finally, regardless of good intentions, no government can guarantee environmental indemnity on the land or on the sea, regardless of the amount of time, money and engineering invested in prevention and recovery systems.
What remains unclear is why Premier Clark did not lay out these five preconditions for all the world to see before arriving at the side door of the Alberta legislature in Edmonton last week for what she hoped would be a clandestine energy issues chat with Premier Alison Redford.
A “frustrated” Redford was unimpressed by Clark’s dithering over Enbridge and let her hang out to dry the next day on the front page of the Edmonton Journal.
Redford told the Journal: “If I was in her shoes, I would be trying to set in place a set of conditions that … would allow the project to go ahead but that would work with industry, not just Enbridge but other companies that are looking at pipelines in B.C., to try to come up with a framework that makes sense to let that investment come into the province.”
Apparently, Clark heard just part of the message.
Redford — displaying nation-building qualities that Clark can only dream of — has been gathering support for a national energy strategy, saying Canada’s prosperity demands a united front to exploit the nation’s vast resources.
She met last week with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and her calls for deeper east-west energy ties have been embraced by Quebec and by the Conservative-dominated Senate energy committee.
This week, premiers Clark and Redford and their counterparts are in Halifax for Council of the Federation meetings where a national energy strategy will be high on the agenda. Even with her eleventh-hour list of pipeline prerequisites tucked under her arm, Premier Clark has very little to bring to the table. M