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OTTAWA — The Harper government has approved construction of the proposed $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline, setting up a battle in British Columbia with opponents who vow to use every means possible to block it.
In releasing the much-anticipated decision Tuesday, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said the government accepted the advice of a federal review panel which recommended in December that cabinet approve Enbridge Inc.’s project, subject to the company meeting 209 conditions covering safety, environmental protection and consultations with local communities, including First Nations.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long argued that Canada must have access to west coast ports for its booming oil sands industry, a conviction that hardened after the Obama administration delayed a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The government made the announcement through a press release, with neither Mr. Rickford, nor the government’s B.C. heavyweight, Industry Minister James Moore, available to answer questions.
Speaking prior to the announcement in the House of Commons, Mr. Harper said his government would not approve a resource project “unless we can determine that it is safe for the environment and safe for Canadians.” He has said his cabinet was being guided by the review panel’s experts.
In a statement, Mr. Rickford said Enbridge must demonstrate how it will meet the conditions and must undertake further consultations with First Nations.
“The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfil the public commitment it has made to engage with Aboriginal groups and local communities along the route,” he said.
NDP chief Tom Mulcair, the Official Opposition Leader heaped scorn on Stephen Harper’s decision, and said an NDP government would kill the project, should it win election in 2015.
“This decision would immediately be set aside by an NDP government,” Mr. Mulcair vowed.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also vowed to reverse the decision if he wins the next election.
Environmental groups vow to make the Gateway decision a major campaign issue in the 2015 election. The Conservatives have 21 seats in the province and need to hold onto many of them if Mr. Harper is to win a second majority mandate.
“While Enbridge has overcome another hurdle with this federal approval, they still face a wall of opposition in B.C.,” said Nikki Skuce, Senior Energy Campaigner. “First Nations, B.C. municipalities and the B.C. provincial government have all rejected Northern Gateway.”
Calgary-based Enbridge now has to win over B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who said Monday that the company has not satisfied her government’s conditions required for provincial approval, which include environmental protection, addressing First Nations’ issues and financial benefit for the province. As well, First Nations leaders and environmentalists have vowed to launch court challenges, with aboriginal leaders arguing the federal government failed to properly consult them and accommodate their interests, as is required under Supreme Court of Canada decisions.
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