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The historic NDP majority government victory in Alberta Tuesday night has cost Enbridge an important ally in its beleaguered push to build the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline: an Alberta Premier.
New Democrat Premier-elect Rachel Notley has suggested she believes the $8-billion pipeline, from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. is a lost cause.
“Gateway is not the right decision. I think that there’s too much environmental sensitivity there and I think there’s a genuine concern by the indigenous communities,” Notley told the Calgary Herald on April 24.
“Quite frankly, anyone who knows how these things unfold [knows] nothing is happening there for decades.” she also told Global News.
Outgoing Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice, who resigned his leadership post in his brief concession speech, was previously on the payroll of Enbridge as a consultant. Prentice blamed his party’s losses on the rapid oil-price dip that cratered the Alberta economy.
Before his jump into provincial politics, he worked as the company’s emissary to Aboriginal communities to try and revive failed pipeline negotiations.
With Prentice's defeat and Notley’s rise, Coastal First Nations leader Art Sterritt says it’s time for Enbridge to shelve this project. He represents the B.C. tidal bands who are opposed to the pipeline terminal and the 200-plus oil tankers that the pipeline would bring.
"It’s time that Northern Gateway cut their losses and put this to bed. It will allow everyone to move on,” he said. “We’re spending lots and lots of dollars to oppose this. We have court cases going on. We’d really rather get on with building a true diverse economy in this province.”
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations say they are "ecstatic" with the NDP sweep. The communities live downstream to the north of Ft. McMurray's oil sands air and water pollution.
"As First Nations we are optimistic to finally have a government that recognizes and respects Indigenous rights and territories and look forward to sitting at the table with this new government to find effective ways to implement and respect Aboriginal rights across multiple sectors," wrote Eriel Deranger in a statement.
Enbridge pushes on
A spokesperson for Enbridge said Wednesday the project is far from over.
"We remain committed to this conditionally approved project and look forward to sitting down with the new premier to discuss her concerns,” said Enbridge's Graham White in Calgary.
At a recent NDP rally, Notley suggested that what Alberta really needs is more refinery jobs, and less raw bitumen export pipelines such as Northern Gateway and Keystone XL. She remains supportive of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion and the TransCanda's Energy East projects, reported the Calgary Herald.
“We need a government that is focused on encouraging job creation and resource processing here in Alberta, instead of Texas,” the NDP leader said.
TransCanada said it looked forward to working with Premier-elect Notley, her cabinet and the rest of the Alberta NDP government:
"The value of the energy industry to Canadians is unquestionable,” wrote company spokesman Mark Cooper from Calgary.
"Market access for Alberta’s crude oil remains a top priority and we remain committed to developing projects such as Keystone XL and the Energy East pipeline to supply U.S. and Canadian refineries. Pipelines remain the safest way of transporting large quantities of oil long distances,” he added.
Investors on the TSX responded sourly to the NDP victory, sending Enbridge, TransCanada and Suncor stocks dipping.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said: "Albertans have spoken and we respect their choice."
"CAPP works with governments of all political stripes across Canada and look forward to sitting down with Premier Notley in the near future."
Grand Chief: 'Enbridge is dead, dead, dead'
Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline has faced years of stiff opposition. First Nations along the pipeline's virgin wilderness corridor in Northern B.C. in particular stand against it. Following a National Energy Board approval of the project with 209 conditions, the Harper govenrment also gave it the green light.
Since then, it's been hit with some 17 Aboriginal law suits, says the leader of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
"Enbridge was literally on life support anyway with respect to the enormous groundswell of opposition to the project by a majority of British Columbians," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip on Wednesday.
"Now given the pronouncements of the Premier-elect Notley, Enbridge is dead, dead, dead," he added.
The Pembina Insitute says the support of the Alberta government is not the issue — getting British Columbia's is. The Clark government is demanding Aboriginal buy-in, and world-class oil spill prevention, in addition to the 209 conditions handed down by the federal government.
"Those conditions are tough. There are many reasons why the company might look at them and walk away. I don’t think having the support of the government or not is going to make a big difference at this point. It’s really in the hand of the B.C. government," said the institute's executive director Ed Whittingham from Canmore, AB.
A plebiscite in Kitimat, B.C. in April of last year also turned down the project at the pipeline's terminus community.
The New Democrats, under leader Rachel Notley, swept all 19 constituencies in Edmonton on Tuesday and made significant inroads in previously barren NDP territory in Calgary, Lethbridge and rural Alberta, Canadian Press reported.
"Friends, I believe that change has finally come to Alberta," Notley, told cheering supporters who chanted "Rachel! Rachel! Rachel!"
With files from Danny Kresnyak and Canadian Press.