Saying Yes to Resource Development in B.C.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark | BCBusiness
The NDP’s affinity for saying “no” to a variety of natural resource projects likely helped with Christy Clark’s re-election.

What will Christy Clark’s re-election mean for the province’s natural resource sector?

Now that the dust has settled in the wake of Premier Christy Clark’s stunning election comeback, it will be useful to look at what it means for the future of natural resource development in the province.
For the last two or three years–and the wonky polling numbers supported this–there has been a growing sense that most B.C. residents don’t want anything to happen in this province that would remotely be a threat to the environment. Never mind all the mitigating measures that industry would put in place.
That essentially means no to a couple of oil pipeline projects; no to continued fracking to develop the northeast’s shale gas deposits; no to just about every mine proposal on the books; and no to any expansion of coal shipments through the Port of Vancouver. The only industry that escaped this, curiously, was the forest industry, which for all intents and purposes was completely ignored by both parties.
And halfway through the campaign, the NDP–which bought into the “no” movement with the exception of building a liquefied natural gas business–looked like it had a lock on both the public sentiment and the election.
Then mid-campaign NDP leader Adrian Dix made his now-infamous decision to firmly oppose the Kinder Morgan proposal to expand its crude oil pipeline and dramatically increase the number of tankers carrying oil out of the Port of Metro Vancouver. And he did so after saying for months that he would take no position on the project until he’d seen a formal application from Kinder Morgan.
His goal, clearly, was to grab all those green votes that might split the vote in enough ridings to reduce what was looking like a solid majority government. It backfired big time, and contributed to that wave of Liberal MLAs elected in Interior constituencies where the population has as much of a concern about jobs as it does about the environment.
What the people of B.C. have now established (at least those who chose to vote) is that “no” is not the right answer to resource development if it means economic ruin. Put aside for a minute that First Nations issues are still a major factor in all these proposed developments, and consider that with the right environmental mitigation the public answer to many of these projects might be “yes.”
That has to hearten not only the incoming Liberal government, but also Stephen Harper’s federal government and Alison Redford’s Alberta government. An NDP win would have had the opposite effect–even though a pragmatic NDP administration would likely have said “yes” to some of these projects anyway. Adrian Dix, without any help from anyone apparently, removed any sense that he would be pragmatic.
The political lesson here: Pander to a fringe vote on either end of the political spectrum and you risk losing a good chunk of the middle. And in B.C., the middle clearly wants a balance between the health of the economy and the health of the environment.


 Don Whiteley is a natural resources writer based in North Vancouver.