VICTORIA, British Columbia (Reuters) - The left-leaning New Democrats are set to reshape energy policy in Canada’s Pacific province of British Columbia if, as expected, they seize power from the Liberals in Tuesday’s elections to the provincial legislature.
Opinion polls put the NDP between 7 and 10 percentage points ahead of the Liberals, well down from the 20-point lead the party had before the campaign started.
The Liberals’s rating rose as they played up fears the New Democrats would be poor stewards of Canada’s fourth-largest provincial economy. But the NDP should still win, after being out of power for 12 years.
“It’s not as dramatic as a 20-point lead, but even a seven-point lead would give us an NDP government,” said pollster Mario Canseco, at Angus Reid Public Opinion, who has the NDP ahead by seven points.
The legislative assembly has 85 seats, with 45 currently held by Liberals and 36 by the NDP, and four held by independents. That means the NDP would need to gain seven seats to take a majority in the assembly.
British Columbia prides itself on a pristine environment and a history of environmental activism - the Greenpeace movement got its start here 42 years ago.
With polls showing the majority of the province’s 4.6 million citizens concerned about the threat of spills from oil pipelines, both parties question such developments, especially Enbridge’s proposed C$6 billion ($6 billion) Northern Gateway pipeline that would ship 525,000 barrels of oil sands crude per day from Alberta to the B.C. coast for export to Asia.
Enbridge, Canada’s biggest pipeline company, acknowledges the opposition to its plan. But Al Monaco, the company’s chief executive, said he expects support for the project to climb.
“I admit it’s tough at the moment,” he told reporters after the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday. “As more information comes out I think there’s a very good possibility of getting more support.”
NDP leader Adrian Dix also opposes a plan from Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP to more than double the size of its Trans Mountain pipeline carrying crude oil from Edmonton, Alberta, to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, a move that would increase tanker traffic in the Port of Vancouver.
Dix’s party has also proposed a tax on banks and credit unions to help fund spending promises that include a $4 million environmental review of Northern Gateway, as well as an expansion of the province’s carbon tax base to include emissions from oil and gas drilling and production.
The pipeline promises won praise from environmentalists, but the Liberals say they threaten the investment climate.
“These things together are sort of raising doubts about the willingness of the NDP to accommodate investment from which development and jobs flow,” said Richard Johnston, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia.
Jock Finlayson, chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia, said he was confident any government will ensure a stable investment climate.
“We’ll judge the government, whoever it is, by their actions and by their policies once they’re in office. We’re not going to prejudge that,” he said.
The Liberals, in power since 2001 and now led by Christy Clark, have focus on balanced budgets and debt reduction in their campaign.
But the party’s popularity plunged after it changed the rules for the provincial sales tax in 2009, only to row it back two years later after losing a provincial referendum.
Both parties have proposed increases in corporate and personal income taxes, with rates to come out slightly higher under an NDP government. ($1 = 1.0024 Canadian dollars)
Editing by Janet Guttsman