Canadians gripped by Northern Gateway pipeline debate, experts and polls say – by Peter O’Neil (Vancouver Sun – August 26, 2012)

The Vancouver Sun, a broadsheet daily paper first published in 1912, has the largest circulation in the province of British Columbia.

Politically charged issue could have ramifications for Stephen Harper in the next election
Canadian history is packed with riveting battles over natural resource developments from the oilsands and dams to mining, salmon fishing and old-growth forest clearcutting.
But observers struggle to pinpoint an example in living memory of a project that has gripped the public for such a sustained period as Calgarybased Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline to the West Coast.
“I have never in my experience observed such a reaction to any big project, probably since back when they were drowning villages” to construct the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s, said former B.C. senator and ex-federal energy minister Pat Carney. During the Brian Mulroney era, Carney dismantled the deeply controversial and divisive national energy program. “It’s like it touched an inner nerve.”
Interest is fuelled in large part by the wide range of crucial issues: the pace of oilsands development, climate change, wealth-sharing, supertanker safety, first nations rights, fisheries protection and economic growth in an uncertain global climate.

“I’ve said repeatedly that we will not go ahead with projects that are not safe for Canadians and not safe for the environment,” Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver reiterated in an interview. “But those that do pass regulatory muster will advance the national interest and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, trillions of dollars in economic activity and hundreds of billions in revenue to support social programs. So there’s an enormous amount at stake here.”
While stakes are already high, it’s politics that has consistently pushed the issue into overdrive, even raising questions about whether the pipeline could threaten Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority government in a 2015 election.
A poll released Friday by Abacus Data Inc. found that British Columbians opposed the project by a 56-25 margin. More crucially, 41 per cent of B.C. respondents who said they voted Conservative in 2011 said they are against Northern Gateway.
That spells trouble for Harper, who took 21 of 36 B.C. seats last year and needs the province – which will have 42 seats in the 2015 election – to keep his majority, according to Abacus pollster David Coletto.
“I do think the Tories are risking support if they remain adamantly supportive of the pipeline,” Coletto said.
Harper’s government “needs all its seats in B.C. to keep its majority. If 2015 is about energy and the government doesn’t sell the importance of the oilsands and energy transportation to Canadians, look out.”
Tom Siddon, a former Tory minister of fisheries and Indian affairs in the Mulroney governments of 1984-93, compares the Harper government’s support for oilsands pipelines to
Mulroney’s explosive 1986 decision to give Quebec rather than Manitoba a lucrative maintenance contract for CF-18 fighters.
“It was a purely political decision, and some say that’s why the Mulroney government was wiped out in ’93,” said Siddon, a Northern Gateway opponent. “Of course there were other factors, but this [Northern Gateway] is bigger than the CF-18 decision. This is squarely political and is coming from Harper’s own backyard in Calgary.”
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