Adrian Dix ramps up pipeline battle
By Peter O'Neil, Vancouver Sun, May 12, 2012
B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix is predicting a "businesslike" relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper if the NDP wins next spring's provincial election, even though he's investigating ways to challenge a critical component of Harper's economic plan: Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline megaproject.
Dix said Friday he's assembling a legal team headed by Vancouver lawyer Murray Rankin, a specialist in aboriginal, natural resource and environment law, to consider his legal options to oppose the controversial $5.5-billion pipeline proposal now before a federal review panel.
Dix said the legal team is looking at various legalities surrounding the issue, including the federal legislation and the Harper government's approach to the joint review of the Enbridge proposal by a panel drawn from the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
One matter they're looking at is a 2010 deal in which the B.C. government said it accepted that a federal environmental review would be equivalent to a B.C. process.
The agreement notes that the federal review will "take into account" the views of the public and first nations. Dix said there may be questions about whether Ottawa has fulfilled that commitment.
The NDP leader had tough words for Ottawa's handling of environmental reviews of two controversial natural resource projects: Calgary-based Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline and Vancouver-based Taseko's New Prosperity gold-copper mine.
The Harper government is aggressively championing the pipeline, tabling legislation certain to ease the project through the regulatory review process despite aggressive opposition from many B.C. first nations.
The project is also the centre-piece of Alberta Premier Alison Redford's so-called national energy strategy, which is seeking cross-Canada approval for infrastructure to get natural resources - especially oilsands crude - to key markets like China.
The federal government also announced this week the establishment of a review panel for the Taseko project near Williams Lake, which is bitterly opposed by first nations. The mine proposal was rejected by the federal government after a previous negative panel assessment in 2010, after a B.C. government review panel gave it a green light.
The environmental group Sierra Club B.C. has argued that the terms of reference for the new panel effectively "neuter" its ability to rule independently.
Dix said the Harper government is making a major mistake if it thinks it can interfere with the environmental review process for the two projects.
"It may seem like a good idea to not engage fairly in processes, but in fact, it's not. It's not in the interests of either the environment or economic development or first nations issues to do that, and that's where current federal and B.C. governments have it wrong," Dix said. "We need to have good processes that have credibility."
He said there's tremendous first nations solidarity behind those opposed to the two projects, so the perception that aboriginal views are being ignored could cause an angry reaction, court cases and deep uncertainty for all businesses trying to launch projects in a province with a backlog of land claims.
"This has real consequences for B.C.'s reputation," he said. "I'd prefer resolving these situations in a way that is respectful of first nations."
Dix is an outspoken critic of federal policy on criminal justice, Canadian-European free trade talks, and health care transfers.
He said the world of federal-provincial relations has changed due to Harper's refusal to hold first ministers' meetings, the federal government's view that Ottawa shouldn't meddle in areas of provincial jurisdiction, and Ottawa's hands-off approach to provincial health care systems.
Dix said he could be an asset to Harper on two key issues - resolution of long-standing aboriginal issues such as the B.C. land claims file, and the championing of national unity if the Parti Québécois replaces the Liberals in the next Quebec election.
Dix, who speaks fluent French, even mused about the possibility that three western premiers - Alberta's Redford and Manitoba's Greg Selinger also speak French - could go to Quebec and help battle to keep Canada together.
"As someone who thinks it's crucial the country stay united and remain an example to the world, I think having western premiers who can speak to that would be helpful."