Government may delay decision on Enbridge Northern Gateway: Rickford

In a long-winded response to reporters in New York, the Minister said the federal government could "obviously" take the Joint Review Panel's recommendation to approve the pipeline, or choose "other options that would or could include delays.” 

Photo of Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford at the Marine Tanker Safety Summit in Musqueam territory on Monday. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

The federal government may delay a decision on the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said at an energy conference in New York. He said the Joint Review Panel's report from December, which recommended approval with over 200 conditions, is still being considered. 

“Obviously, this is an extensive report with 209 conditions, and the government obviously has the clear option of taking that on its face, or other options that would or could include delays,” Rickford said to reporters at the event, according to the Financial Post. 

He added that the government was making "careful considerations" now and would respond to the report in the "not-too-distant future." The government has until June 17 to announce a decision on the project.

The 1,177-kilometre pipeline would bring oil sands bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, BC, for shipment to Asian and U.S. markets. It has been fiercely opposed by Northern BC residents and a coalition of over 130 First Nations.

"The fact that the Harper government is even considering a delay speaks volumes to how unpopular this project is," said ForestEthics campaign director Ben West.

"No length of delay will ultimately get this project the social license it needs to proceed. Regardless what Harper decides First Nations and the people of BC have already rejected it and that isn't about to change." 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said on Monday that an approval of the project would "poison" relations between federal government and BC's First Nations, the majority of whom have opposed the project. 

"It’s going to completely undermine and damage what’s left of the relationship between First Nations and both the provincial and federal governments,” he said on Monday. He warned that saying yes to Northern Gateway could jeopardize other industrial projects in BC, including LNG.  

Over the past few months, the project suffered significant blows to its support.  In April, Kitimat -- the proposed site of the terminal -- decisively rejected the pipeline in a plebiscite. The result was viewed as a sign that Enbridge had lost its social license to build the pipeline, as Kitimat was poised to directly benefit from the project if approved. 

A Nanos poll in June found that less than a third of British Columbians polled were in support of the project, despite heavy television, print and web advertising for the project over the last four years.  Last week, a group of 300 scientists signed a letter stating that the National Energy Board's federal review of the project was deeply flawed. 

In the past, the federal government expressed strong backing for the pipeline as being in the national interest, with former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issuing an open letter criticizing opponents to the project. Enbridge has argued that the $6 billion pipeline is imperative to the Canadian economy, allowing land-locked Alberta to expand its customer base beyond the United States to Asia. The company argues it loses up to $8 per barrel by exporting to the U.S. instead of shipping it to more lucrative markets in Asia. The company argues that Canada will be vulnerable to economic disaster if the pipeline is built. 

However, recent studies have shown that the Conservative vote in the 2015 election could be undermined in British Columbia -- which elected 21 Conservative MPs in 2011 -- if the pipeline was approved. 

Rickford's stance on the pipeline were reflected by his parliamentary secretary, Kelly Block, in Question Period today, in which his NDP MP Murray Rankin asked the Minister to reject "this grotesque proposal". 

"We have been clear. The project will only proceed if they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment," Block said. "Our government is currently viewing the [JRP] report, and will make a decision in due course." 

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