Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
February 2020

Vol. 25, No.06 Week of February 09, 2020

Sudden convert to pipelines: BC’s Horgan reinforces change of heart

Gary Park

for Petroleum News

From one of Canada’s most outspoken opponents of big energy projects, British Columbia Premier John Horgan has turned himself into a champion of big LNG and crude bitumen pipelines that cross his province to tanker ports on the Pacific Coast along with becoming a vigorous defender of high court verdicts that open the way for those transportation systems.

This is the same person who, when leader of the opposition party in the B.C. legislature, took resolute stands against plans by his predecessor Christy Clark for turning British Columbia into a global LNG power (hopes that have since drastically faded).

When he took office almost three years ago, Horgan also threatened to empty his province’s toolbox to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, waging battle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, only to take a resounding setback earlier this year, having paid out millions in legal and consulting fees.

He is now apparently eager to align himself with pipeline backers - including unionized workers, landowners and First Nations - in the remote rural areas of northern and southern British Columbia, where voters have delivered resounding victories to British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Canada’s opposition Conservatives.

Gearing up for election

Although he has no plans to call an early election in B.C., Horgan is gearing up for the next provincial vote, backed by his solid financial record that has seen B.C. deliver seven straight years of budget surpluses.

But he may need the electoral support of First Nations and left-leaning voters in rural regions if his support of pipelines erodes his standing with environmentalists and those who want B.C. to abandon natural resource development.

Speaking to a B.C. Natural Resources Forum in Prince George on Jan. 29, Horgan dined heavily on humble pie at a luncheon address.

“Resource development has been part of our spectacular past and I believe is part and parcel of our rosy future,” he told delegates.

“What will keep it going is a commitment by everyone in this room to acknowledge there are going to be differences of opinion when it comes to economic activity in British Columbia,” Horgan said, urging all British Columbians to establish a “common focus.”

He talked about LNG “being on the rise,” with the C$40 billion development by LNG Canada creating thousands of jobs, opening up markets for the province’s vast gas supplies and offering economic opportunities to Indigenous businesses.

Challenges ahead

However, he conceded there are challenges to deal with, notably resistance to the Coastal GasLink pipeline from a minority of 15 Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who claim territory along a portion of the pipeline route.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson told the same forum that Horgan needs to show leadership in the LNG pipeline dispute by telling the activists “that this project is going to get done.”

He said the Liberals will work with all residents who demonstrate a willingness to cooperate. “The rest of them are going to be subject to the courts,” he said.

Horgan also again conceded to reporters that the Trans Mountain pipeline will go ahead.

“I’m not enamored with the prospect of a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic (carrying crude bitumen from the Port of Vancouver to Asia) through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea. But the courts have determined that the project is legitimate and should proceed,” he said.

Horgan announced in Prince George that he has hired Nathan Cullen, a former federal Member of Parliament, to work as a liaison between First Nations chiefs and his government on Coastal GasLink.

He said that “over time a dialogue will allow us to get to a place where the Wet’suwet’en will see the courts have determined that federal and provincial permits are in order. This is a massive project that has massive benefits to B.C, particularly the Indigenous communities (offering a chance to overcome) systemic poverty.”


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