In a recent piece for The Pulse, Huffington Post columnist Éric Grenier analyses Harper’s precarious position in the skirmish between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and BC Premier Christy Clark over the Northern Gateway pipeline. Harper wants the pipeline to go ahead. Exploiting Canada’s natural resources is a key piece of Harper’s economic puzzle, and his government has harshly criticized environmental groups that have tried to put up obstacles to his auctioning off of our “black gold” to the highest Asian bidders. The catch? Alberta wants the pipeline to be built and British Columbia does not.
Here stands Harper’s predicament. The heartland of Harper’s Conservatives is Alberta, and he and his Albertan cabinet members want to deliver for their constituents. And while BC’s Clark is not against the building of the pipeline per se, she wants a larger share of the revenues, a request flatly denied by Redford. Consequently, Clark is entrenching her position because it is putting her on the right side of public opinion in her province. A Forum Research poll conducted last month indicated that only 31 percent of British Columbians favour the pipeline, juxtaposed with 59 percent opposed. According to Grenier, if you remove the undecideds from the equation that means the 2 of every three British Columbians do not want the Northern Gateway to open.
This means that a strong federal push for the pipeline could shift BC votes to the NDP come next election. With a 16-point swing from the Tories to the NDP already taking place since the 2011 election, these are votes that Harper cannot afford to give up on the West coast. Moreover, as more seats are being added to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island – both regions are strongly opposed to the pipeline – BC is shaping up to be quite the electoral battleground. This, coupled with the impending election of the NDP’s Adrian Dix to BC’s premiership (Dix firmly opposes the pipeline, not just for fiscal reasons, but ethical ones as well), means that the federal Tories must choose their next move very carefully.
Offering BC some of his own share of the revenues in an attempt to satisfy both premiers may be a short-term option for Harper, but Grenier believes that this sort of precedent may cause huge problems for the fed’s moving forward, and with Dix likely to become BC’s premier next year, such a sacrifice may be futile. It seems for now that the best Harperland can hope for is an agreement between Clark and Redford on the pipeline sooner rather than later, and the re-election of Clark in May’s provincial election next year. Unfortunately for Harper, with every day the conflict drags on, both outcomes seem more and more unlikely.
However, this quandary Harper finds himself in should not be the sole focal point. In a recent article on rabble.ca, Canada’s Geographic Environmental Scientist of 2010, Christopher Majka notes that a large majority of Canadians want Canada to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels (66 percent), and create more green energy jobs (74 percent), while only a minority want Canada to focus on exporting more oil and gas (33 percent). Thus if majority rules, the Tories may be focusing on the wrong issue. It is not necessarily a case of merely Redford or Clark, it is also a case of why are we not diverting some of this time and money exploring greener and more sustainable alternatives instead?