David J. Climenhaga, Rabble.ca, July 19 2012
If you thought NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair was mistaken -- or, worse, just being "divisive" -- when he said about a week ago that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline was finished, think again.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper may still officially love the project and dream of fast-tracking it, but you can take it as given that its demise is pretty well official now that Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith has all but admitted the unpopular proposal by Enbridge Inc. is never going to fly with voters over the border in British Columbia.
This verdict by Smith, who is leader of the Wildrose Party and effectively the MLA for Calgary-Oilpatch-Executive-Suite, is a strong signal the energy industry has written off the Calgary-based corporation's plan as a sure loser and will soon move on to new versions of exactly the same thing. This is what is known in the business world as "rebranding."
It was only on July 12 that the federal NDP Leader speculated publicly that the Northern Gateway plan is doomed, partly because of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board's scathing report on Enbridge's pathetically irresponsible behaviour before and during its massive 2010 pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
"Northern Gateway should be stopped and the plug should be pulled on it," Mulcair said at the time with characteristic bluntness, if a somewhat mixed metaphor.
This prompted some of the usual tut-tutting from officials of Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative government, which on this file has pretty much the same agenda as the Wildrose Party.
Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes grumbled about how Mulcair needed to understand the economic importance of the oil sands -- which Mulcair most certainly does. But his mild tone -- significantly downgraded from the screeches of virtual treason and national division from some of his fellow Tories not so long ago -- indicated that the Redford Government too has concluded the Enbridge project is a write-off in light of the Michigan revelations.
Anyway, both Redford and Smith have a much more challenging British Columbia megaproject on their agendas right now, and that is keeping fellow-travelling B.C. Premier Christy Clark in office in the face of what looks to be an NDP steamroller on British Columbia's fixed election date-with-destiny next year.
No doubt after consulting her own pollsters, the "Liberal" Clark, who is really just another neoconservative, has lately sounded deeply unenthusiastic about the pipeline proposal.
B.C. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix, the New Democrat the polls say is poised to defeat Clark, has promised to fight the Enbridge proposal with every breath in his body if he does in fact become premier of British Columbia next year.
This has been taken by Alberta's solid oilpatch political front -- represented with equal enthusiasm by Smith, Redford and Harper -- as proof positive Dix would oppose any shipments of bitumen by pipeline to the West Coast. As has been said here before, this not necessarily the case if the timing is right and then proper sweeteners for British Columbia are thrown into the deal, no matter which party happens to be running that province.
Regardless, it is almost a certainty that this project will not now be revived until after the B.C. election, which is scheduled to take place on May 14, 2013.
Don't take my word for it, here's oil industry spokesperson Smith: "I've heard that there are options that would go to the West Coast on a different route that might make more sense," she informed reporters while taking a breather from Wildrose caucus retreat at a "yacht club" on the shallow and weed-infested former Chestermere Slough, just east of Calgary.
"There may have been in the past an easier time going through virgin territory," Smith rambled on, according to a report in the Edmonton Journal. "But something's changed in the last five years. Landowners are far more active and concerned, environmental groups are more active and concerned. First Nations are more active and vocal about it."
In other words, the Northern Gateway scheme is off, just as Mulcair predicted, until after the B.C. provincial election. Then it will be back, with a new name, possibly a new company leading the project and some slight differences in route.
As of now, that's about as officially dead as a project of this nature can get.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.