For the Harper government, the Gateway must be open – by Shawn McCarthy and Steven Chase (Globe and Mail – January 10, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OTTAWA— The Harper government has launched an all-out campaign against opponents of the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline as it seeks to blunt a global campaign by environmentalists to halt booming oil sands development.

With regulatory hearings set to begin in Kitimat, B.C., Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver singled out a Canadian charity, Tides Canada Inc., for channelling U.S. donor money to pipeline opponents, while the Prime Minister’s Office took aim at the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an interview Monday, Mr. Oliver deliver a blunt message – that the independent panel reviewing the Gateway pipeline should not allow foreign-backed opponents to hijack the hearings and kill the project through tactical delays.

“There are groups that are financing foreign intervention in the regulatory process,” Mr. Oliver said. He said the groups are following a clear tactic of attempting to drag out the hearings in the hope that the $6.6-billion project will collapse.

“These are projects of enormous national significance – in terms of job creation and creating revenues to fund social programs – and we think decisions about these Canadian projects should be made by Canadians,” Mr. Oliver said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned last week of “foreign money” being used to overload the review process, which must provide time for 4,000 people who have indicated a desire to address the panel. A PMO spokesman said Monday that Mr. Harper was referring to groups like the well-connected NRDC, whose advisory committee includes such Hollywood notables as Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Environmental groups say the Harper government is engaging in diversionary tactics aimed at tarnishing the image of pipeline opponents and deflecting attention from the serious risks posed by the project.

The government will bring forward new rules to set strict timelines on future environmental hearings on major energy projects. But Mr. Oliver said Monday that those new rules will not affect the current Gateway review, which is being conduct by an independent three-person panel representing the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The panel has already pushed back the deadline for concluding its work by a year, citing the huge number of people who want to appear before it.

While Mr. Oliver insists Ottawa won’t intervene, the panel will clearly take into account the government’s support for the pipeline as being in the national interest and its insistence that the review should not be derailed by delaying tactics, said Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association.

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