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NDP would do own review of Enbridge: Dix

Aug 23 2012
NDP leader Adrian Dix says B.C. must have say in Enbridge pipeline decision. 

NDP leader Adrian Dix says B.C. must have say in Enbridge pipeline decision.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com file photo

A New Democratic government would create its own made-in-B.C. environmental review of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project, NDP leader Adrian Dix said Wednesday.

The Opposition leader said if his party forms the next government in May, it will withdraw from the federal government's pipeline review process within seven days of taking office.

An independent review would allow British Columbia to "reassert its authority" over the assessment of the controversial Enbridge pipeline, power that Dix said the provincial Liberal government turned over to the federal cabinet.

"If we do nothing, then the decision of the B.C. government will be made by [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper," Dix said. "I don't think that's acceptable to British Columbians. I think the people of B.C. want to have a voice in that process and we intend to provide that."

The joint panel reviewing the project represents the National Energy board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Authority. It has been conducting reviews across B.C. and Alberta since January, and is expected to finish in April, with a report due by the end of 2013.

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake accused Dix of playing politics.

"What they're doing is picking and choosing winners when they say what assessment applies to what and determining even before an assessment occurs whether a project deserves their support."

Mary Polak, B.C.'s Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, called the timing of Dix's announcement interesting.

"I would think if he was going to announce a separate made-in-B.C. process for environmental review of Enbridge, he might have done that before he came out and said that as a government, the NDP would never support the Enbridge project," Polak said.

In the house, the NDP recommended that the government be an intervenor in the hearings, which it has done, Polak said. That means the government can cross-examine Enbridge, seek additional information and ask questions that are important to British Columbians.

Polak said the province signed the environmental assessment equivalency agreement with the federal government to avoid duplication of effort, cut the cost to taxpayers and reduce delays.

"If you have a stringent environmental process - which the federal government does - why would you go through that process twice?" she asked. "It makes sense that we have one project, one process."

The NDP could not say how much a separate review process would cost. Dix acknowledged there would be cost to taxpayers, but said there is a lot at stake financially and environmentally for B.C.

In June 2010, the provincial and federal governments signed an agreement that allows either party to withdraw from any National Energy Board environmental assessment of a project with 30 days' notice.

Dix, who was joined by NDP environmental critic Rob Fleming and constitutional lawyer Murray Rankin at a news conference, said he would serve notice to Ottawa within a week in office.

Rankin, chairman of a legal advisory team assessing B.C.'s legal authority and options involving the pipeline, acknowledged that primary jurisdiction over an interprovincial pipeline is federal.

"But legally, B.C. has the ability within its jurisdiction to do what has to be done and take positions on that," he said. "The question of whether ultimately the approval is federal or provincial will be one that constitutional lawyers are going to be discussing over the next few years."

Environmental advocates said they supported Dix's decision, particularly since the federal government recently cut the budget of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"The federal budget bill earlier this year gutted the whole federal environmental process - paving the road for pipelines and tankers," said Karen Wristen of Living Oceans Society in a written statement.

"The province of B.C. is more than justified in pulling out of the joint assessment agreement, because the federal process is no longer anything we could call 'equivalent' to proper environmental assessment."

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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