Dix on Kinder Morgan: Strong Stance or Flip-flop?

Is it pipelines Adrian Dix opposes, or just more tankers in Burrard Inlet?

Adrian Dix won over the enviros this week by speaking out against Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion, but is it really the pipeline he’s against, or just the location of the tanker terminals?

NDP leader Adrian Dix set the cat among the pigeons this week when he announced (on Earth Day, of course) that he’s not at all keen on seeing the Port of Vancouver develop into a large oil exporting terminal.

He was directing his comments at Kinder Morgan’s proposal to spend $5.4 billion to nearly triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain Edmonton-to-Vancouver crude oil pipeline, from 300,000 barrels of oil a day to 890,000 barrels of oil a day.

All that additional oil (or oil sands bitumen, to be precise) would be exported from Burnaby’s Westridge Terminal on Burrard Inlet to markets in Asia and the U.S. in tankers. The traffic would grow from about five to six tankers a month to 34 tankers a month.

The NDP is now trumpeting this decision as “a principled stand against pipelines,” but is that really what it is? Dix’s comments focused exclusively on the tanker component and he said almost nothing about the pipeline itself. Which raises the question: what if Kinder Morgan revises its project (the company has yet to submit a formal application to the National Energy Board) and designates either Roberts Bank or perhaps Anacortes, Washington as the shipping terminal?

When I asked him, Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson gave (via email) a nicely worded, lengthy non-answer: “Trans Mountain is continuing to develop our application to the National Energy Board (NEB) for our proposed expansion and we’re on track to file the application later this year. We are confident that we can satisfy questions and concerns about our proposed project both from the public and elected officials.”

Dix’s announcement is the shrewdest political flip-flop of the provincial election campaign so far. He initially said he would take no position until he’d seen the formal application, but pressure from environmental groups and the almost unanimous opposition to the project among Metro Vancouver municipalities provided the necessary push to get off the fence. Just look at the glowing accolades that came his way immediately after the announcement.

That euphoria will last through the election. But after Dix’s coronation (assuming the polls are accurate), he will have an immediate economic problem on his hands. The NDP now appear to be opposed to any and all pipelines to the west coast, and those pipelines (the other one is Enbridge’s $6 billion Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat) represent more than $11 billion in capital investment plus jobs and government revenues.

On top of that, Dix will be instantaneously on the outs with neighbouring Alberta, which desperately needs to ship oil to Asian markets, and with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who sees Alberta’s oil export needs as crucial to the health of the Canadian economy.

So here’s the question: is Dix an incredibly shrewd politician who has bought off the environment movement during the election campaign while also sending a simple but blunt message to Kinder Morgan that it should consider a shipping terminal that gets all the tankers out of Vancouver?

Or is he just another anti-development soon-to-be-premier who is prepared to stifle the development of the province’s energy sector to keep the left wing of his party happy.

If it’s the latter, watch out. It will be a very rough economic ride for the province.