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Opposition to B.C. resource projects comes with economic repercussions

For those wondering just how easy it is to pursue resource projects in B.C. these days, look no further than Burnaby Mountain.

In many ways it has become a symbol of the growing resistance inside the province to anything that involves digging holes and extracting the mineral or energy riches that lie beneath the earth. More than a couple dozen protesters trying to block Kinder Morgan's attempts to do preparatory work on its proposed pipeline expansion have been arrested in recent days, invoking memories of blockades and anti-development demonstrations that have become an integral part of B.C.'s rich resistance history.

But something feels different about what is taking place now. The opposition to resource development, in particular, is growing. And it's not just tree-bound activists and First Nations leaders determined to stop anything that looks environmentally dangerous or that would encourage fossil fuel dependency. Increasingly it's the province's political leadership as well.

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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson campaigned in the recent civic election on his desire to thwart the Kinder Morgan expansion.

But there may not be a bigger adversary of the project than Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who was recently quoted as saying: "This is going to be a war and it's going to be one that carries on for a number of years."

Let that sink in for a minute. Mr. Corrigan already has city lawyers in court trying to persuade Kinder Morgan to surrender to the opposition. It's a strategy that has been used by environmentalists and others for years. But as The Globe and Mail's Mark Hume has revealed, the number of resource projects being tied up in the courts these days is staggering.

In his research, Mr. Hume found $25-billion worth of planned developments being stalled by 38 court actions. They are temporarily (and maybe permanently) halting pipelines, mines, a dam and a coal port.

Many of these initiatives have been launched by representatives acting on behalf of First Nations, which collectively have been emboldened by new powers invested in them by the courts.

And this is all fine, of course. Those now before a judge have pursued a legal right. And they are likely as determined as Mr. Corrigan to thwart the development process just long enough that the project proponent will give up and go home. And that's okay too, as long as people understand that when those evil multinationals wanting to plunder our natural resources for fun and profit decide it's no longer worth the hassle of setting up shop here, it will be a decision that comes with consequences.

The natural resource industry in B.C. accounts for up to 13 per cent of the province's gross domestic product. (Economists argue that number actually understates the broader impact the industry has on the economy because it doesn't account for sizeable downstream benefits to other businesses). Now, 13 per cent is not a figure that suggests we are reliant on cutting down trees and building pipelines for our every need. But it represents a vast amount of money to the government, billions in fact, which it uses to help pay for schools and hospitals and new transit lines. If and when that revenue starts to dry up, and there is nothing there to replace it, trouble will follow.

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In this year's Speech from the Throne, for instance, the B.C. government spelled out how important a thriving natural gas industry is to the future of the province. Even though its development is far from certain, the government is already looking at royalties from it to build the roads and bridges of the future. That's scary actually. At the same time, you have some would-be suitors indicating they are losing patience with the province because of court battles and regulatory delays.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest was in town recently to speak to a conference organized by the B.C. Business Council. He now travels the world offering advice to companies looking for opportunities in Canada. He said the country, and B.C. in particular, is gaining an international reputation as a difficult place to do business. And that rep is scaring away investors.

Again, all that is okay as long as people understand that it does come with economic repercussions. Maybe Derek Corrigan has a plan to fill that financial void as it begins to emerge. More likely, though, it won't be his problem to deal with.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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