Northern Gateway pipeline decision could be a game-changer for the Harper government

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

As this country awaits President Barack Obama's decision about the Keystone XL project, another oil pipeline will invariably steal the headlines over the next couple of weeks.

Before the House of Commons wraps up for its summer break — somewhere around the 20th of June — the Harper government is going to have to make a decision about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Tories have advocated for the controversial $6.5 billion mega-project —that would transport crude from the northern Alberta to Kitimat on the west coast of British Columbia — as a means to get Canadian oil to the lucrative Asian markets. Some government estimates suggest that the pipeline could add $300 billion to the Canadian economy over the next 30 years.

But there's a problem — a political problem. Approving the project could contribute to the demise of the Harper majority government in 2015.

According to a recent Bloomberg - Nanos survey, British Columbians do not want the project and a lot of them say that they're willing to show their disdain at the ballot box in 2015.

46.9 per cent of those surveyed that if the Tories approved the Northern Gateway Pipeline, they would you be less likely or as likely to support their local Conservative candidate. 18.6 per cent of Conservatives said the same thing.

"Approval of the pipeline by the Harper government is likely to have a collateral negative impact on support for the Conservatives in BC, especially among female voters." notes the survey report.

Press Progress — a propoganda arm of the left-leaning Broadbent Institute — did the math and identified six MPs who could be in trouble if Conservative voters lived-up to their threat: John Duncan, James Lunney, Nina Grewal, Cathy McLeod, Andrew Saxton and Wai Young.

Anti-pipeline activists and environmentalists are indeed trying to make this a ballot-box issue.

Leadnow and Forest Ethics Advocacy have started a campaign — dubbed 'The Enbridge 21' — targeting B.C.'s 21 Conservative members of parliament. They started a website urging constituents to send emails to those MPs reminding them that B.C. is saying 'no'.

"Over 130 First Nations have created a united wall of opposition and have launched numerous legal challenges. Eight out of eleven communities in the path of the pipeline and tankers have rejected it, including Kitimat, Prince Rupert, Ft St James, Terrace, and Charlotte City. Even the entire Union of BC Municipalities voted to oppose the project, twice," notes the email text.

"The Enbridge Northern Gateway project threatens our coastal economy, our land, water, First Nations, and our independence as a province to make our own decisions about our future."

"As an MP from BC, you have a choice: you can help defend beautiful British Columbia from the Enbridge project, or gamble BC’s future."

[ Related: Chronology of Northern Gateway pipeline saga ]

The Harper government's best course of action — politically at least — might be to somehow slow down the project by forcing Enbrigde to meet some more 'conditions'. Another 'way out' might be a slight re-route: According to the Financial Post, Enbridge might be open to rerouting the pipeline to Prince Rupert which could mitigate concerns about oil spill risks.

Whatever the case, the decision has the potential to be a game-changer for the Tory government.

Politically, economically and environmentally: this could be one of Stephen Harper's most important decisions of his career as prime minister.

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