Conservative lawmakers, facing a backlash after the Canadian government approved Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline, say the tough conditions placed on the project will make it palatable to voters.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet endorsed Northern Gateway late yesterday, subject to Enbridge satisfying conditions set by a regulatory review panel in December. The pipeline is unpopular in British Columbia, polls show, and faces opposition from aboriginal and environmental groups.
“There’s a lot of stringent conditions, 209, that are going to have to be fulfilled before this goes ahead,” said Mark Warawa, a Conservative whose district is near Vancouver. “I don’t believe my chances for re-election will be hurt.”
Calgary-based Enbridge first proposed the pipeline a decade ago as production from Alberta’s oil sands -- and demand in Asia for fossil fuels -- started to increase. The route would traverse the Rocky and Coast mountains before descending through the coastal rain forests of northwest B.C., home to aboriginal groups who harvest shellfish and other seafood from the surrounding waters.
Under the regulator’s conditions, Enbridge must have liability coverage of C$950 million and lead research efforts on heavy-oil spills in marine and freshwater environments. Other conditions include making pipeline walls thicker in sensitive areas, increasing the frequency of inspections, and deployment of additional radar to monitor marine traffic.
Only 29 percent of B.C. residents said they favored immediate approval of the project by the federal government, according to a June 3 Bloomberg-Nanos poll. Thirty-three percent of respondents wanted Harper to delay approval for further study, while 34 percent wanted the project rejected.
“I’ve had a lot of tweets from people,” Warawa said today outside Parliament in Ottawa. “A lot of them inappropriate.”
The same poll found 47 percent of respondents said they’d be less likely to vote for Harper’s Conservatives if the government approved the project, including 19 percent of those who said they supported Harper in the 2011 election.
David Wilks, a Conservative member of parliament from the Kootenay region, along the southeast part of British Columbia bordering Alberta, said there has been “fear-mongering” about oil spills by the project’s opponents and that his constituents recognize the need for natural resource development.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as big a deal as anyone thinks it is,” Wilks said, referring to the political fallout.
John Weston, a lawmaker whose district covers more than 12,000 square kilometers northwest of Vancouver, said the pipeline’s conditions are so stringent, they’ll be tough to meet.
“It’s a very tough job to complete any pipeline under those conditions,” Weston said. “It will protect the environment and fisheries, things that are very important for British Columbians.”
John Duncan, the government’s chief whip from Vancouver Island, said that while he’s heard from both sides on the issue he is “comfortable” with the decision. “There’s much work left to do, obviously,” Duncan said.
B.C., home to the most protected parkland of any of the nation’s 13 provinces or territories, is key to Harper’s majority government. The ruling Conservatives hold 21 of the 36 districts from B.C., and 160 of the 308 seats in Parliament. The party took 46 percent of the province’s vote in 2011 elections, compared with 33 percent for the opposition New Democratic Party and 13 percent for the Liberals.