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TORONTO - The re-election of British Columbia's Liberal government means a pipeline from Alberta to Canada's Pacific coast that would allow tankers to export oil to Asia now has a better chance of being built, a Canadian senator said Wednesday.
British Columbia's Liberal party surprised pundits by winning Tuesday's election. The leftist New Democratic Party, which is against Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, had widely been expected to win.
Federal Conservative Sen. Richard Neufeld, British Columbia's former Liberal energy minister, said the pipeline still faces an uphill battle, but faces a far easier path now that the Liberals have been re-elected.
"The Liberals want to make sure the environment is looked after, but they also understand that you need economic activity to pay for things like health care and education," Neufeld said.
Neufeld said the public sent a loud message about not hindering economic development. He noted that the New Democratic leader seemed to lose support after pulling his support for the expansion of an existing Kinder Morgan pipeline to the West Coast.
Liberal Premier Christy Clark also said it had an impact on the race.
"We won on the economy. We really did," Clark said. "People were really concerned about the economy."
The more controversial Northern Gateway pipeline is undergoing an environmental review. There is fierce environmental and aboriginal opposition. The fear of oil spills is especially acute in pristine British Columbia, with its snowcapped mountains and deep ocean inlets.
Clark hasn't ruled out approving the Northern Gateway pipeline and has set conditions that include British Columbia receiving more of an economic benefit. Disagreements between Clark and her Alberta counterpart, Alison Redford, over sharing the economic benefits of the pipeline remain unresolved.
"They have to make sure British Columbians are made whole because they are taking the biggest risk," Neufeld said. "It's British Columbia's coast. If a tanker has an accident it's British Columbia's coast, not Alberta's."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to get the Pacific pipeline built and export oil to China after U.S. President Barack Obama initially rejected TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The decision to initially reject the pipeline went over badly in Canada, which relies on the U.S. for 97 per cent of Canada's energy exports.
The Obama administration is scheduled to announce a decision on Keystone XL later this year. The pipeline has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over climate change. Republicans and business and labour groups have urged the Obama administration to approve the pipeline as a source of much-needed jobs and a step toward North American energy independence. Environmental groups have been pressuring Obama to reject the pipeline, saying it would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.
Harper is visiting the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on Thursday as part of a public lobbying effort in support of Keystone XL.
The proposed pipelines are critical to Canada, which must have infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production from northern Alberta. The region has the world's third largest oil reserves with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million in 2025. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have more reserves.