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Doing business in British Columbia is particularly challenging because of the province’s reputation as a hotbed of environmental and aboriginal activism. John Winter worries it could get worse, threatening $90-billion in planned projects, if the Northern Gateway oil pipeline isn’t built.
“If this thing fails it will be a serious and significant issue,” Mr. Winter, president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, which represents 125 chambers around the province with 36,000 businesses in every sector of the economy, said in an interview.
“It’s going to be a test for our ability in the future to attract business.”
Environmental organizations and First Nations have been railing for years against the $7.9-billion Alberta-to-West Coast bitumen pipeline, claiming the risk of oil spills is too great and the benefits too small.
Federal government approval Tuesday — the culmination of a dozen years of planning, a protracted regulatory review and major initiatives to improve marine and land spill response and benefits to aboriginals — was met with even greater outrage. Legal challenges and mobilization to push a provincial referendum are under way. Civil disobedience and sabotage have been threatened.
Activism isn’t cost-free.
B.C.’s business community is worried the growing influence of activists will scare off investors, Mr. Winter said.
“The concern is real, because it’s not just about Gateway,” he said. “It’s about the other pipeline [the proposed TransMountain expansion]. It’s about what they might do to liquefied natural gas [plans]. It’s about what they might do to the shipbuilding contracts and the shipment of coal out of the East Kootenays. They seem to be able to attack one issue after the other. And we seem vulnerable to that kind of attack.”
If the high-profile clash over Northern Gateway escalates into lawlessness, similar to that seen in the early 1990s when opposition to logging in Clayoquot Sound resulted in 850 arrests, planned projects of all kinds worth $90-billion could “disappear in a flash if there is an incident,” Mr. Winter predicted.
Already, there is widespread expectation that investment in LNG will fall short because of B.C.’s high costs and competition from the United States, which is moving faster to build export terminals and meet growing global demand.
Even Enbridge Inc., the proponent of Northern Gateway, has left itself room to back away or delay Northern Gateway if it doesn’t win greater support. President and CEO Al Monaco wouldn’t give an estimate for completion Tuesday.
“We know there is an imperative to open up markets, but we are going to do this right and take a disciplined approach,” he said. “We are not going to be driven by our calendars or watches here.”
For the rest of this column, click here: http://business.financialpost.com/2014/06/19/b-c-businesses-worry-northern-gateway-clash-could-scare-off-investors/?__lsa=6d59-2d4d