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Updated: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 18:46:23 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Conservatives distance themselves from Northern Gateway approval



Canada's Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford talks to reporters at the end of the G7 meeting for Energy in Rome, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press

Canada's Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford talks to reporters at the end of the G7 meeting for Energy in Rome, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press

Conservative MPs and staff are distancing themselves from the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, despite being enthusiastic about finding a way to ship natural resources to Asia.

Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would move oilsands bitumen from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C., for shipping across the Pacific Ocean to Asian markets.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several of his cabinet ministers have talked about the importance of diversifying Canada's export markets, especially since U.S. President Barack Obama seems to be dragging his feet on making a decision whether to approve TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.

But the government announced its decision to accept the National Energy Board's recommendation to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline, subject to 209 conditions, in a press release. Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford declined interview requests and wasn't available Tuesday to take questions from reporters about the decision.

The government also refused on Tuesday and Wednesday to supply a Conservative MP to CBC News Network's Power & Politics for a panel discussing the decision.

Several Conservative MPs from British Columbia rushed away from reporters trying to ask them questions.

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who represents B.C.'s Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding, said the Conservative MPs from B.C. didn't have much to say in the House.

"There's a reason for that: This is an incredibly unpopular decision.... These guys have gutted environmental laws, destroyed whole acts that exist on the books of Canada, all to enable this project. They are wedded to it. They can't be half-pregnant on this."

'Wait and see'

On Wednesday, only a handful of the 21 B.C. Conservative MPs spoke to reporters as they left their weekly caucus meeting.

Mark Warawa, who represents Langley, B.C., said Enbridge has a year to figure out whether it can meet the 209 criteria set by the NEB. He also downplayed the government's acceptance of the NEB recommendation. 

"The government has not said go ahead and do it. They've said we agree with the recommendations of that independent review panel," Warawa said. 

"Critical to this also is the consultation with First Nations," he added. "So we're going to have to wait and see whether or not this is going to go ahead."

Many of the First Nations whose territories would be affected by the pipeline have said they're opposed to it.

A spokesman for Rickford said on Twitter that Tuesday's decision didn't guarantee the project would go ahead.

"Government support dependent on proponent meeting 209 conditions imposed by independent regulator. It's a maybe," Chris McCluskey wrote.​

'A lot of years out'

Conservative MPs from B.C. ridings have been targeted by pipeline opponents recently as they tried to apply pressure to get the government to halt the project.

David Wilks, the MP for Kootenay-Columbia, said the pipeline isn't likely to be an election issue in his riding, which already has an economy based on coal mining and forestry.

"This plays right into what my riding would want with regards to natural resource extraction," Wilks said, adding that he doesn't see it as a problem for his Conservative MP colleagues in the province either.

"Certainly this is a lot of years out. If you look at it from the 209 conditions that have been placed upon whomever builds the pipeline, not necessarily Enbridge but anyone else, it will take some time for this to happen."

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod wouldn't say whether she expects the controversial pipeline to become an election issue.

"I think we have people obviously who are for and against this project that I think have a government that is making their decision based on the independent recommendations is something that we should be proud of," McLeod said.

2015 election issue?

Warawa said he's sure the pipeline will be an election issue.

"The question is why the NDP and the Liberals will disregard scientific environmental assessments. What does that say for future environmental assessments?" he said.

"The NDP and Liberals have said that, 'We don't care what they say. Our ideology will negate everything, we'll just do it based on politics.' Well that's not good governance."

Wilks was more blasé about the possible impact on the next federal election, which is currently set for Oct. 19, 2015.

"I don't think it's going to be as big a deal as everyone thinks it is. I think that from what I can see, most of the people that were against [the pipeline] expected what was going to be said yesterday anyways. So the reality of the situation is this is a fait accompli for a lot of people." 

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