Opinion: NDP must learn that you can sell oil and protect the environment


As a former premier of B.C. and a member of the New Democratic Party for 50 years, I strongly support the federal government’s decision to approve the twinning of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

It’s no secret that my position on this issue is not that of my party leader, John Horgan. In no way does that change my vote. Horgan  will make an excellent premier, one who is focussed on the needs of working families, and I look forward to casting my ballot for him in May.

That said, the Trans Mountain Pipeline is good for our province and our country because it embodies the values that have helped Canada become the envy of the world — a country where prosperity is widely shared across a vast and varied landscape. And as we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary, I think it’s useful to look back on our history to remind ourselves how this success was built.

In addition to development of social programs like Medicare, the expansion of workers’ rights and the many other reforms fought for by citizens that have extended the rights of citizenship, the Canada we know was built by extracting and distributing the wealth created by our natural abundance. I know this first hand. I got my start working in a pulp mill in Prince Rupert. Jobs in that mill put food on the table for hundreds of families.

Key to the creation of wealth in Canada has been the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments — a central feature of confederation. One necessary division of power is to give the federal government responsibility for interprovincial trade, including responsibility for pipelines that cross provincial boundaries. To do otherwise would lead to the kind of balkanization and squabbling between provinces that would degrade and diminish our economy to the detriment of all Canadians.

Let there be no doubt, British Columbia has benefited enormously from this arrangement. As Canada’s gateway to the Pacific, the major ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert have grown significantly, sending our country’s products to distant shores, generating jobs and tax revenue in B.C. and across the country.

Implicit in this understanding in our confederation is that we cannot deny landlocked provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba the opportunity to export their resources. After all, what does it mean to be a country if we deny these provinces the opportunity that we have because we are a maritime province? Does anyone seriously think that if British Columbia had the same amount of oil as Alberta that we would leave it in the ground and not export it to build our economy?

The fact is the Trans Mountain Pipeline — which eliminated the need to import oil by ship from California — has been operating safely since 1953. Twinning the pipeline along its route will create thousands of new jobs in B.C., boost our gross domestic product and greatly reduce the amount of oil transported by train.

Moreover, the project comes with hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments in maritime safety and, because of the Alberta government’s greenhouse emissions cap, it will not contribute to climate change. What the pipeline expansion does do is ensure that Canadians get the best value from our country’s chief commodity, providing new jobs and economic opportunity and new money for government to invest in priorities like health care, education and the environment.

In Canada, we share a collective responsibility to a greater good. I see those values on display in the work of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and her government. I met her father Grant Notley back in 1973 when he came to Prince Rupert to help us elect the first NDP MLA in our history. I was a young trade unionist, and he struck me as one of the most decent and principled politicians I had ever met.

His daughter has done him proud and she has recognized that with her Climate Leadership Plan that you can develop a hydrocarbon resource for the benefit of working people without degrading the environment.

As a proud New Democrat, I think that’s a vision worth fighting for.

Dan Miller is a former provincial cabinet minister and premier who represented the ridings of Prince Rupert and North Coast as an MLA from 1986 until 2001.

Story: Vancouver Sun