It’s been months since the NEB presented its long list of conditions that Enbridge must meet in order to begin construction on the Northern Gateway pipeline project in BC. Now, it’s finally time for the federal government to weigh in on the project. That’s right; after months of speculation, the Canadian public will finally learn what our great Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his merry band of Ministers think about this pipeline. The big question is: do they like it, or do they love it?
The federal government has three options: (1) approve the project in line with NEB conditions, (2) reject the project, and (3) delay making a decision. Don’t bother calling Niagara Falls (Canada’s Vegas?)…the safe money is on approval. But is it really such a simple decision? Possibly no. There are clear pros and cons for every alternative, and these issues are rarely as blue and white as they seem at first glance. Let’s examine.
The first option, approval, would allow the pipeline project to move forward, and the oil to start flowing across the Pacific Ocean to China. This option looks good because it means Canada can sell more oil, and therefore make more money. It also means that Canada could start selling its oil at a price closer to the market rate. That means even more money. The key here is that Canada benefits financially because it diversifies its oil market. Joe Oliver sums it up nicely, “The Canadian economy has been bolstered by resource revenue, and it’s important that we continue to see that revenue sustained and grow.”
Indeed diversity is the key. But is this the only way to accomplish it? Couldn’t we send the oil east and sell it to Europe? South to South America? Try thinking bigger. One could make the obvious argument that Canada could diversify in another way. Don’t choke on your poutine, but there are countries out there that produce things other than oil. There are technology economies, knowledge economies, and even economies that rely heavily on renewable energy industries. Are Canadians too old, too stupid, and too fond of burning things to convert to any of these economies? Call me a revolutionary, but I don’t think we are.
So should the government reject the pipeline? From its perspective, there’s one big reason to favour rejection: British Columbia voters. The Federal Conservative Party currently holds 21 of 36 seats in BC. This means that its coveted majority government would disintegrate if it lost any more than half of its seats in the province. Is that likely to happen? Well, it turns out that when BC residents aren’t growing pot they’re smoking pot, but when they aren’t doing either they are grumbling about this pipeline. Thousands show up to anti-Enbridge protests to argue with Ezra Levant! And this isn’t just a fair-weather political issue with little traction. A recent Nanos poll suggests that 67% of BC residents want to see the pipeline rejected or delayed for further review. Conclusively, then, the stakes are very high if the government approves the pipeline.
The final option is to delay making a decision about the project. While this is undeniably the least decisive, most boring option available, it might actually make the most sense for a few reasons. First, everyone is going to be paying attention today when the decision deadline arrives. If Harp Vader wants his announcement to fall through the cracks, this is the worst possible time to announce it. By delaying, he gives himself an opportunity to make the decision when people are distracted by something else, like, say, someone in his party breaking another election law, or one of his appointees being ineligible for office, or one of his favourite cabinet ministers building another extremely expensive gazebo for no good reason. It’s more likely no one would notice the pipeline if any of these things was happening.
Approval retains the base and rejection retains the majority, but delay could do both. After weighing these options, it certainly seems possible that the government might choose to delay its decision on Northern Gateway. In geopolitical terms, this means a slight strain on relations with China and the US (China wants the oil and the US would be justifiably ticked that we delayed our pipeline while harassing it to undelay Keystone XL). Domestically, it means less growth in the oil export market, and fewer jobs for guys like Terry and Dean from the FUBAR series. You can decide if that bothers you. More importantly, it means you probably have to watch another round of Enbridge commercials. You might even have to pay for another round of responsible resource development commercials. Yikes! Here’s to hoping for a quick resolution and heavy fallout.