Yesterday’s announcement by PM Harper in Vancouver – that science, not politics will determine whether Northern Gateway will be approved – was taken disturbingly to heart by the media today. This is coming from a PM who just a few months ago gave himself and his cabinet (ie, himself) the power to overrule the already-compromised Joint Review Panel, and who has already expressed his full support for the project. There is no way he can be taken seriously at this point when he says things like this, so why has he been taken at his word?
The Calgary Herald gave Harper a free pass, not even mentioning the earlier moves, and even saying he “responded” to the BC-Alberta dispute over royalties, when his actual words were “I’m not going to get into an argument or a discussion about how we divide hypothetical revenues.” That’s not responding, that’s avoiding completely.
Most newspapers, including the National Post and the Toronto Star, did manage to point out the disconnect between yesterday’s comments and the past seven months of ham-fisted pounding of the political and legal opposition to the pipeline, or at least the irony of these comments in light of having made the scientific approach utterly redundant. The Globe and Mail completely neglected to hold Harper to account for this latest hypocrisy, however, only addressing his comments on the BC-Alberta dispute (which were nonexistent).
Some stories suggested that this could be a sign that he is backing away from the project in light of popular opposition to it, preparing to jump ship at a later date or at least allowing some wiggle room for its potential failure. Maybe so, but I personally don’t buy it. This is not a PM who cares about the feelings of a few “radicals”; plus, he just last week imposed a time limit on the review process. I think it’s much more likely that Harper is buying some time and trying to distance himself from the BC-Alberta debate, pawning off the negative impacts of the project on Alberta while he gets to play the impartial judge. If the “scientific review” comes back against the project (highly unlikely given the National Energy Board’s track record on large projects) he still has the power to overturn the decision, so for now, it may as well be somebody else’s fight.