Christy Clark, Stockwell Day, and the Northern Gateway pipeline
Normally, politics takes a hiatus in the summer as MPs and MLAs retreat to the barbecue circuit to firm up support in their constituencies.
But with a B.C. election scheduled for next May, it's been anything but quiet on the provincial scene.
Premier Christy Clark's surprising about-face on the Enbridge pipeline has raised the stakes not only for the corporate power brokers who always had their way during the Gordon Campbell era, but also for the provincial NDP.
Cynics might look upon Clark's five demands, including a fair share of the revenue, and threats to scuttle the proposed Enbridge pipeline as political posturing.
The conventional wisdom is that the premier wants the pipeline to proceed, but only after B.C. gets a little more money from Alberta to demonstrate that she has some clout.
But what if Clark has already concluded that she's finished as premier because the right wingers at the Fraser Institute and in the Conservative party have decided that she has to go before the next election?
Then, she's got nothing to lose by spurning those who've traditionally had a heavy influence on the party, such as Independent Contractors and Businesses Association present Phil Hochstein and the Fraser Institute's chairman, Peter Brown.
If they've already decided that Clark can't take the free-enterprise coalition across the finish line next spring, she's at liberty to do whatever she likes to save her political career—including killing the Enbridge proposal.
And if Clark can't be trusted to ensure that the $5.5-billion Northern Gateway Project gets built before the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. gets approved, this won't go over well with Enbridge's financiers, including CIBC, which has former federal Conservative environment minister Jim Prentice on its board.
The Fraser Institute recently published a paper concluding that if Canadian oil producers had access to the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region (i.e. through the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines), that would "secure the best possible return on their investment".
The right-wing think tank concluded that building this infrastructure could add $10.5 billion to the gross domestic product.
Of course, there was no mention in the news release about the impact that higher domestic oil prices resulting from these pipelines would have on Canadian consumers. For that, you have to read reports by economist Robyn Allan, who has concluded that the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines will harm the Canadian economy.
The backdrop to this is that the Liberal MP who represents Vancouver Quadra, Joyce Murray, happens to be fond of quoting Allan's analysis. And Murray's riding includes most of Vancouver–Point Grey, which is represented by Clark in the legislature.
What about Stockwell Day?
From my vantage point, this is looking like a potential showdown between Clark and the extreme right wingers.
This fall, the B.C. Liberals will hold a convention—and a committee may recommend a new name for the party. That could easily lead to a leadership race to choose someone to head this rebranded right-wing entity.
Brown and another Fraser Institute director, Future Shop founder Hassan Khosrowshahi, are on very good terms with former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day.
If there is a leadership contest, I bet that Day will be trotted out as the ideal candidate to unite the right and defeat the B.C. NDP. That's because he's not tainted with the B.C. Liberal brand, unlike another darling of the right, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.
If Clark is thinking along the same lines, it makes perfect sense that she would bang the drum against the Enbridge pipeline. That's because this will attract the support of so-called Green Liberals, who could save her job as leader.
Day has some obvious advantages for the downtown business crowd. He would neutralize John Cummins and the B.C. Conservatives, because nobody can question Day's blue credentials.
Day is also an able debater, presents an upbeat image, and has broad appeal to social conservatives, who have abandoned the B.C. Liberals in droves. He would be a formidable opponent to NDP Leader Adrian Dix, especially if the right compared their experience in government.
After choosing not to run in the 2011 federal election, Day is somewhat under-employed, hanging his hat as a "senior strategic adviser" at the law firm McMillan, serving as a director of Telus, and running his own consulting firm.
Brown recently wrote a letter to B.C. Conservative directors telling them that they're playing a dangerous game by dividing the vote on the right. Perhaps this was his way of softening them up for a bid by Day to become B.C.'s next premier.
Day's history could create problems for the right
Day has already won nine elections in two provinces. But he has a huge vulnerability, which Clark would undoubtedly exploit. And that is his history as an Alberta Pentecostal pastor and administrator of a private Christian school.
According to Marci McDonald's 2010 book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, this school used "science texts based on biblical literalism, featuring lyrical expositions of creationism and no mention of evolution".
"God's law is clear," Day said at the time, according to McDonald's book. "Standards of education are not set by government, but by God, the Bible, the home and the school."
You can imagine how the NDP's Dix could exploit this on the campaign trail, particularly when dealing with voters of other faiths.
McDonald reports that after being elected, Day tried to stop public funding of abortion and attempted to exempt gays and lesbians from protection under Alberta's human-rights legislation.
The Armageddon Factor also points out that Day is part of a Kelowna-based Christian group called Watchmen for the Nations. It was founded by former pastor Bob Birch as a reaction to Vancouver hosting the Gay Games in 1990.
Day eventually became leader of the Canadian Alliance. He lost the 2000 election to Jean Chrétien after Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella played up Day's social conservatism. By 2002, Day had been replaced as party leader by Stephen Harper and went on to become minister of public safety and international trade, before ending his federal career as president of the treasury board.
Day has given no public indication that he wants to get back into the political fray. But he has been spotted at dinners attended by Brown and Khosrowshahi. And these Fraser Institute directors could trust Day to ensure that their cherished Northern Gateway Project would get provincial backing in B.C..
Right now, that's not the case with Clark at the helm, particularly if she's feeling cornered by federal Conservatives in her party.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.