The federal Conservative government has approved Enbridge's Northern Gateway oil pipeline project, despite widespread opposition in B.C. that includes the provincial government, First Nations, environmental organizations and residents of the intended oil tanker port of Kitimat.
The decision is still subject to 209 conditions recommended last year by the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel, as well as five conditions set out by the provincial government that include world leading marine and land spill protections, resolution of aboriginal concerns and a fair share of benefits for B.C.
"There's no social licence to proceed on this project," said Victoria MP Murray Rankin, following the announcement. "Sure, they've got the piece of paper but that doesn't mean they'll have the ability to move forward because the process is so illegitimate."
Rankin said the Joint Review Panel was "hand-picked" by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who openly supported the project three years ago.
There are more than 130 First Nations across B.C. opposed to the project, and ensuing legal battles on the pipeline route are likely to drag through the courts for years, he added.
"We have 21 federal Conservative MPs from B.C. who hid from the people they represent," Rankin said. "Now we have to make sure those MPs don't get back into Parliament."
Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Weaver said the federal government is simply ignoring the will of the majority of B.C. residents.
"The fact is, Kitimat is opposed to this project. First Nations are opposed to it. British Columbians are opposed to it. It’s time for the provincial government to draw a line in the sand, and reject the Northern Gateway project," said Weaver, deputy leader of the B.C. Green Party.
The B.C. government still has the authority to grant or deny dozens of construction permits for the project. Premier Christy Clark has set five conditions for Northern Gateway, and Rankin said Clark would be "hypocritical" not to oppose its construction.
"I didn't hear from a single person in my constituency who believes this project is a good idea," he said. "Bottom line: this pipeline will never be built."
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the decision means the project meets the first of five conditions required by the province, a successful federal review.
"We recognize the benefits that the Northern Gateway project may bring, but they will not be at the expense of our environment," Polak said.
The decision by the Harper cabinet follows last December's ruling by a federal review panel that the $6.8-billion project should proceed, subject to 209 conditions.
That followed Enbridge's earlier pledges to improve the project's safety with thicker steel and other measures along the 1,177-kilometre route.
The twin pipelines would carry 525,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from the oil sands west to Kitimat and send condensate to act as a thinning agent east to Alberta.
-with files from Tom Fletcher