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B.C. could withhold electricity from proposed pipelines, Premier suggests

B.C. Premier Christy Clark scrums with the media following her meeting with Alberta Premier Alison Redford to discuss the Northern Gateway pipeline in Calgary on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has issued a veiled threat to withhold electricity needed to operate controversial oil sands pipelines if the projects do not meet her demands.

Ms. Clark, when asked Tuesday what steps her province could take to block projects like Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway, went beyond pointing to the 60 regulatory permits B.C. could deny.

"British Columbia's power would be required to power up the pipeline, from B.C. Hydro – a Crown corporation," she said while speaking to students from University of Calgary's School of Public Policy. "There are a whole number of different things the British Columbia government could do."

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B.C. Hydro did not return a call seeking comment.

Ms. Clark is trying to convince Alberta her five demands – three environmental, one tied to First Nations rights, and another linked to economic compensation – must be met if pipelines carrying heavy oil are to snake through B.C. (Update: The leaders of the two provinces reached an agreement in November.)

"You know what, though? To me, all the speculation about how British Columbia would stop it is kind of silly," she later told reporters. "Because if British Columbia doesn't give its consent to this, there is no way the federal government or anyone else in the country is going to be able to force it through. It just won't happen."

Bruce March, Imperial Oil Ltd.'s chief executive, saluted Ms. Clark's strategy.

"I think Premier Clark did something really good to set out those five conditions," he said at a separate conference Tuesday. "Now people have to figure out whether they can be met, should be met, or how they can be met."

Alison Redford, Alberta's Premier, has sharply rejected any suggestions that her province would share bitumen royalties or tax revenue with its neighbour. The premiers met Monday for a short minute meeting they both described as "frosty."

"A 15 minute conversation isn't going to be enough,"  Mr. March said.  "I think there's a role for both provinces, the leadership of both provinces, to play and there's a role for our industry to play, too."

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Ms. Clark also said Tuesday  B.C. is unprepared for marine oil spills even though crude is already being shipped out of a port near Vancouver.

Marine safety is one of the Liberal leader's five concerns. She called B.C.'s current response plans "embarrassing" and will not give her blessing to proposed oil sands pipelines unless spill prevention and response blueprints are beefed up. The current system, she says, is inadequate and dangers would be exacerbated if the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., were built.

"We have a lot of oil moving up and down our coasts, a lot of it moving out of Vancouver harbour. We are not ready for any spill right now," she said. "I think adding to the mix by starting to move heavy oil in large amounts out of the Douglas Channel without being ready, I think it would be lunacy."

About 48,000 barrels of oil per day are already leave B.C.'s west coast via Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain network. Oil from Alberta's bitumen deposits have been shipped through the line, some destined for China where energy companies fetch a higher price for their products. Kinder Morgan wants to expand that project in order to move more oil out of northern Alberta.

The federal government, which is strongly in favour of shipping oil to markets in Asia, has "expressed real interest" in helping B.C. develop top-notch spill plans, Ms. Clark said.

She also wants more money for the province in exchange for granting the projects permission. However, she does not know how much cash it would take to satisfy her.

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"I can't tell you that because we haven't even started a conversation about it," Ms. Clark said. "This project can't go ahead unless there's a conversation. Since July I've been saying: 'Let's have a conversation about it."

Adrian Dix, B.C. NDP leader, said Ms. Clark is hurting B.C.'s reputation by threatening to cut off an industry's access to electricity.

"The Premier can turn off your power, if he or she likes it, but it is wrong," he said in an interview. The NDP leader is opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline but said the law should be followed rather than threatening to smother a project in red tape.

"They are engaging in a desperate attempt to court public opinion, but a better approach would be to make the decision here in B.C."

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About the Authors

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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