The federal government has, up until very recently, been a major cheerleader for the Northern Gateway pipeline project. After all, the pipeline is intended to carry Mr. Harper's favourite energy source—Alberta bitumen—to offshore markets.
The government has proclaimed the economic benefits of the pipeline, castigated its critics as foreign-funded radicals undermining the Canadian economy and eased environmental regulations to expedite pipeline approvals.
Then B.C. Premier Christie Clark, philosophical bedmate and friend of Stephen Harper (now former friend?), got testy about the project, insisting that B.C. get a share of the profits as well as guaranteed compensation against environmental damage. Clark was generally considered to be responding to the anti-pipeline sentiment rampant in her province across which the pipeline must venture.
Mr. Harper's main man in B.C., Heritage Minister James Moore, started picking up on the provincial vibes as well and came very close to echoing Premier Clark's sentiments. "Just because British Columbia is
physically the Asia-Pacific gateway, it doesn’t mean that we’re the
doormat for companies like Enbridge to think that they can go ahead and
do business without having due diligence and taking care of the public’s
interest," Moore said.
Even Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who has been doing a Joe McCarthy on environmentalists, is hedging a bit, stating in a CBC interview, "I personally have not said that this pipeline should go through."
For his part, Prime Minister Harper has been taking pains to insist the evaluation of the pipeline will be based on independent, scientific assessment, something of a change in emphasis from his usual obsession with economics. But more importantly, why has the man who exercises iron control over his party allowed Minister Moore to make statements that border on heresy?
If the pipeline fails to gain all necessary approvals, it will be a massive political blow to the Conservatives. Are they now starting to reposition themselves to minimize the damage? Harper is a politician who thinks strategically every waking moment—as opposition to the Northern Gateway mounts, thoughts along those lines must be crossing his mind.