To figure out how our provincial political parties think they are going to be affected by the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion controversy in the coming election campaign, it may be best to examine how their leaders have dealt with this issue over time.
For example, Premier Christy Clark could hardly hide her glee when the federal government announced its approval of the project, predicting all five of her conditions that must be in place before her government can lend its own support for it will be in place fairly soon.
Clark has used her conditions as an attempt to establish some sort of credibility when it comes to protecting the environment and addressing First Nations’ rights. But it’s been clear for some time she wanted the pipeline project to go ahead, since her government views it as a job creation vehicle more than anything else.
NDP leader John Horgan, who says he opposes Kinder Morgan, still admits to being reluctant to talk about the project. He has told the media that he hopes to talk about a whole bunch of other issues — housing, education, daycare etc. — during the election campaign, rather than Kinder Morgan.
Horgan’s difficulties with this file stem from the fact his party is seriously split when it comes to pipelines and Horgan himself has uttered contradictory positions on Kinder Morgan over the years (which the B.C. Liberals are already using as juicy fodder for an attack ad against him).
But the leader who has the clearest and most consistent position on Kinder Morgan is B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver, who may be the prime benefactor of this issue.
Weaver has been an adamant opponent all along. And he is realizing he can use his consistency and unwavering opposition as effective tools to paint a strong contrast between himself and his opponents in a way that will resonate with voters who are opposed to the project and want to register their objections come next May.
Weaver will enthusiastically talk about Kinder Morgan at the drop of a hat, and he uses any opportunity to attack Horgan. He has clearly determined that any pool of potential Green voters will come from the NDP base of support more than the B.C. Liberal side.
Weaver is positioning his party to be seen as the truest, most honest party when it comes to opposing deeply divisive energy project. He will no doubt use Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s enthusiastic support for Kinder Morgan to argue the B.C. version of the NDP can’t be wholly trusted to oppose it themselves.
Still, I think the B.C. Liberals should also be concerned about losing the support from some of their soft voters who live in Metro Vancouver suburbs and who may be opposed to the Kinder Morgan project (particularly the increase in tanker traffic in local waters that comes with it).
If the NDP can attract most of the anti-Kinder Morgan vote (by no means a certainty), it could threaten perhaps a half dozen narrowly-won seats currently held by the B.C. Liberals in Metro Vancouver.
But is that a more likely scenario than this one: the B.C. Greens campaign for the same group of voters and in so doing inflict damage on the NDP’s election chances in various closely-run races?
For example, any significant surge in support for the B.C. Greens could cost the NDP at least two Burnaby seats it currently holds if the B.C. Liberals can more or less hold their vote. And that surge may allow the B.C. Liberals to strengthen their own seats in the region that were won by narrow margins in 2013 (for example: Burnaby North, Delta North, Maple Ridge Mission and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows).
So look for Weaver to exploit the Kinder Morgan issue constantly in the months ahead and to attack Horgan whenever he can. Clark will tread more carefully, trying to skate her way through a difficult issue and essentially wanting to have it both ways.
Meanwhile, Horgan will simply hope to be able to talk about something — anything else.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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