The Northern Gateway brief: unhappy political options and geopolitical assessment

I spent much of last week in Alberta which, as anyone who has traveled across Canada knows, is a very different place from BC. While there, it became increasingly clear that talking about the oil sands in general, and the northern gateway pipeline in particular, was verboten. I spent my week in a Fawlty Towers episode: whatever I did… I couldn’t mention the war pipeline.

In Alberta, it seems an article of faith that the pipeline is going to be built. It was interesting contrast since, in British Columbia, it is virtually accepted that the Northern Gateway pipelineis not going to be built (and there is equally great opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline). At some point these two realities are going to clash. And that makes for interesting questions.

This post is not designed to be a definitive piece on the subject. I’m not an energy expert and don’t claim to understand this issue as well as others. However, I’ve not read anything like this to date and thought it might be interesting to outline a short intelligence brief for those curious about where things may be headed. Based on conversations I’ve had with people in the natural resource sector, government, environmental groups and first nations this is an effort to explore what I think are the likely scenarios and choices for our government, as well as what it may mean for foreign governments with an interest in the outcome.

Some assumptions

If, as you begin to read this piece you are saying – err… what does David mean by the pipeline, I suggest a brief scan of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which will run across Northern British Columbia and allow oil from Alberta’s oil sands to be exported from the west coast port of Kitimat. While I won’t talk about them as much, a reader will benefit from being aware of the proposed Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion and Keystone Pipeline. However, knowing about them is not a strict requirement.

In case anyone takes the time to read what I suspect will be a lengthy post… yes, I, like a large and growing number of BC residents, have deep reservations about the pipeline. My interest here however is less about whether the pipeline will happen – although I dive into that – and more about what I think that means for the choices of various players, which I think is quite interesting.

The New National Energy Policy: why the pipeline (probably) won’t happen

I confess, sitting in British Columbia, it is very hard to imagine the pipeline being built. The fact is, most British Columbians – 60% – are opposed to the project, and that number has been growing, not shrinking. Each day, the project becomes more tarnished and unpopular.

At this point, a massive negative backlash against any political party set on ramming the project through British a very real possibility. It is hard to imagine the current government could have handled the communications around this project in a more inept manner. Environmental Minister Joe Oliver’s rant statement effectively labeling anyone opposed or concerned as a radical did more damage than any environmentalist campaign could have imagined. Those concerned about, but open to discussing the pipeline, felt attacked and grew suspicious that they would have no voice. As the polls reveal – they have turned sharply against the project.

More in Politics

Jacobs and Florida and Gehl oh my! Who really influences our local politicians?

Still undecided about who to vote for? Second guessing yourself? Who really influences and inspires those candidates who are running for a seat in Vancouver's City Hall?

Vanishing Vanhattan: Which candidates have the right ideas when it comes to our local economy and small businesses?

Retail gentrification is causing tension and concern in Vancouver's communities as development continues to displace local serving, locally owned, independent businesses. What can the City do?

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to host telephone town hall

Tonight, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson will be hosting a telephone town hall, answering callers' questions. He said he'll be talking about issues relating to affordability and announcing a...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.

The pipeline(s) will go in.

Your article is full of a lot of ifs ands and buts...

BUT... IF...we leave the oil in the sand in Alberta, we, as Canadians, will need to replace that income and I dont see anything at all on the table.

The government has indeed, failed in its communications strategy, having failed to communicate the cost in public services of NOT doing the piplelines which will be substantial.

However, it aint over until its over, and we could yet hear the littany of these consequences announced over the drumming of costumed Indian activists.


Conservatives fail

If there is nothing on the table to replace the income from the oil sands, then that is truly a failure of this government that they put all of Canada's eggs in the tar sand basket. If for no other reason ( although there are many other reasons) the Conservatives should be turfed.

The Joint Review Panel is powerless

As of August 3, 2012, the panel has been stripped of its power to reject Northern Gateway and the decision on the environmental assessment is solely in the hands of Harper's cabinet.

While you are rght, that

While you are rght, that makes it a purely political decission which can be influenced through political action. Cal the vulnerable Conservative MPs in BC and let them know that you will be donating money to who ever is likely to defeat them if they approve this pipeline. If you live in a conservative riding, call and let you MP know this is a vote deciding issue. talk to your relative in the rest of Canada and educate them to the problem NG would cause BCs economy. Speaking to mine in Sask, I was surprised at how little they understood the risks to BC and when we were talking, they changed how they felt about the pipeline. They had only been given the Alberta, conservative side of the issue. They thought BC only wanted more money and was blackmailing the oil industry. When they understood the rsk to our industries and the net loss the pipeline was to out economy should even a small spill occur, they changed thier mond. Politics are all about willing to take action. The conservatives will back off if they feel it will affeect thier ability to get elected.

More forward thinking

Excellent points Forward Thinker, and I'm glad to see your from Saskatchewan, the home of forward thinking. Yes.....too many people don't know enough about this pipeline, or about bitumen in general. It isn't oil however the 'snake oil salesman' try to turn it into functions like tar and has to be diluted with noxious petroleum by-products and then literally pounded through the pipes with pressure and heat.... Pipes incidentally, that still only have to measure up to the safety reguirements for sweet light crude.....which may explain the ulterior motives of calling a pig a silk purse! Wouldn't have to waste precious time (which is money) on upgrading the safety requirements for that pipe (which incidentally is often made you know where, and it ain't Canada) now would we??? Check out the whistle blower pipeline engineer who came out against the Keystone after McGibbon and scored the delay a year and a half ago.......that's where I learned about second rate pipe. Another Canadian company, Transcanada, doing us proud! We all need to do our research, and share what we know with whoever will listen. and we need to remember we are Canadians 'from sea to shining sea'. Dilbit could tarnish that boast, but it won't change the fact we all have much to lose if our Pacific North West is contaminated, as it inevitably will be if this pipeline goes through.


I'll try not to be so long winded. As we all know, this pipeline problem has exposed a raw nerve in the very foundation of our Country. That being, the ability of any one province to interfere with the free access to shipping by any other province. The Federal Government, after witnessing the antics of the B.C. Government and residents, has proposed that the three Western Provinces have their borders redrawn. As of now, all the borders in Canada run North/South. But that leaves Alberta and Saskatchewan with no access to a sea port. That was never a problem before, but now we see how important it is. The new borders for B.C.  Alberta  and Saskatchewan will run East West, divided in roughly three equal shares. B.C. to the South of Calgary to the Manitoba border.Alberta the middle portion and Saskatchewan to the north. This giving all three Western Provinces free access to a Sea port. As I am a resident of B.C. but a Federally minded Canadian, I will be happy to see these changes. The coast belongs to Canada, NOT British Columbia.