PICKING fights with other governments can often be a winning strategy for political leaders, but it's unclear yet whether Premier Christy Clark's linein-the-sand stance on the Enbridge pipeline will make her party competitive again.
It can be argued she's finally found an issue - and a position - that resonates with voters in a more positive fashion than anything her government has put forward in the past year. Being perceived as "sticking up for B.C." against outside interests will always go over well with the public.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford's verbal salvos fired at Clark over the B.C.'s premier's insistence on getting a bigger slice of the Enbridge pie have played right into Clark's hands.
And Clark's refusal to engage in talks with other premiers towards creating a national energy policy until her conditions on Enbridge are met strengthens the impression she's holding fast at the gates, refusing to let any other government dictate terms to her province.
Her emerging position on Enbridge also appears to have caught the NDP off-guard and somewhat flatfooted. Clark has been leading the news cycle on an issue that the NDP and its leader Adrian Dix had all to themselves until now (ironically, the last B.C. premier to make such a fuss at the federal level was another Clark - as in Glen).
This may be all well and good for the premier on a public-relations basis (the next couple of opinion polls should tell us if that's the case) but it also masks some serious questions about her government's position on the controversial pipeline.
For example, by insisting on getting more dollars from Alberta and/or Ottawa because B.C. takes all the "risk" of a pipeline or freighter spill suggests that a catastrophic oil spill is actually acceptable, as long as the financial payoff for the province is high enough.
One study suggests B.C. will receive $6.7 billion from the Enbridge deal, spread over 30 years. That's about eight per cent of the total revenues flowing to government.
Let's say the other governments agreed to give B.C. a lot more money (a highly unlikely scenario in any event) and double this province's share to almost $15 billion. Is that enough cash to assuage the fears of a spill, either on land or on the coast? Or is perhaps $25 billion the magic figure? Would that make the B.C. government's conscience rest easy?
The other big impression arising from this ClarkversusRedford fight is that they are the two most important people in this debate. They are not; far from it.
While it's important, if not imperative, for the premiers to make clear their positions, the reality is that another kind of government likely has more power than either province when it comes to whether a pipeline is a go or not.
That would be the First Nations. Various high court decisions have made it clear that massive industrial development on land claimed by First Nations in B.C. (particularly in rural, remote areas) will not proceed if the First Nations located there do not approve of it, or at the very least do not have their interests and concerns addressed.
And, so far at least, there is considerable First Nations opposition to the Enbridge project. In fact, B.C.'s Aboriginal Relations Minister, Mary Polak, has said she doesn't know of any First Nations support at all.
Enbridge hasn't consulted with First Nations in any meaningful way, which will not impress any court if a First Nations band takes the company to court to block the pipeline (a very real possibility should the project get through the review panel process).
Nevertheless, for all these questions, Clark has staked out turf on Enbridge that could be more politically advantageous than anything she's done since she took over the premiership. Redford and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper (who now must be wondering how much political capital he wants to invest in Enbridge) can stomp their feet and wring their hands and complain about the unfairness of it all, but the fact remains that a premier has to speak to his or her own constituents first.
And Clark is doing precisely that. Will it be enough to rebuild her party's credibility? Probably not, but at the very least the unpopularity of her government may have finally bottomed out.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC
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