There's been a great deal of speculation over how B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan would respond to the National Energy Board's conditional approval of Kinder Morgan's pipeline application.
The answer came in a letter that Horgan sent to party members this morning.
"This risky proposal is not in BC's best interests," Horgan declares.
The party has launched an online campaign under the headline "Kinder Morgan cannot go forward", which encourages British Columbians to add their name, email address, and postal code.
In the letter, Horgan claimed that the NEB's conditional approval "is the outcome of a flawed process endorsed by Christy Clark".
"The company is proposing a 7-fold increase in crude oil tanker traffic along BC's south coast," Horgan writes. "They want to build a pipeline through some of our province's most important salmon habitat and heavily populated urban centres."
Later, he adds: "I've met with British Columbians along the pipeline and tanker routes. Most people don't think the benefits are worth the risks."
The NDP leader states that British Columbians know that "a strong economy goes hand-in-hand with a healthy environment".
"But we need to have a credible process to evaluate the risks," he states. "We don't know what level of risk we're dealing with on Kinder Morgan because Stephen Harper tailored the NEB to approve pipelines—rather than test scientific evidence or gather public input. Why is Christy Clark hiding behind a flawed process created by Stephen Harper?"
Horgan's move has profound political ramifications
During the 2013 election, then B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix announced his party's opposition to the Kinder Morgan proposal, which would triple bitumen shipments from Alberta to the Lower Mainland.
His decision enraged some New Democrats in the building trades, but it likely helped elect coastal NDP MLAs, including George Heyman (Vancouver-Fairview) and David Eby (Vancouver–Point Grey).
However, the NDP was hammered in the B.C. Interior, including in places where it had won in the past, such as the north and south Cariboo, Prince George, and Kamloops.
Recently, Alberta NDP premier Rachel Notley has emphasized the importance of shipping her province's natural resources to tidewater.
However at the federal party's recent convention in Edmonton, proponents of the Leap Manifesto argued for a rapid transition to an economy powered by renewable energy.
Horgan's decision to say that the Kinder Morgan proposal is not in B.C.'s best interests will no doubt irritate Notley. But it will likely please some progressive B.C. mayors who've publicly come out in opposition to the NEB's review.
They include Vancouver's Gregor Robertson, Victoria's Lisa Helps, New Westminster's Jonathan Cote, and the City of North Vancouver's Darrell Mussatto.
One of the foremost critics of the pipeline, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, is a member of the NDP.
A Corrigan ally, Burnaby councillor Anne Kang, is running in Burnaby–Deer Lake, which is currently held by Corrigan's wife Kathy. Kathy Corrigan is retiring at the end of her term and Horgan desperately wants to keep that seat for his party.
Horgan's decision to oppose the Kinder Morgan review also elevates the NDP's prospects of winning Burnaby-North, which has been held by the B.C. Liberals since 2001.
That's because residents who've voted Green in the past could perhaps be convinced to support the NDP if it will help defeat Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals.
Other seats that could be in play include Comox Valley, Parksville-Qualicum, and North Vancouver–Lonsdale, which are also held by the B.C. Liberals.
First Nations vote matters
Before the last federal election, the Assembly of First Nations encouraged indigenous people to get registered. National Chief Perry Bellegarde told the media that aboriginal people had the potential to influence the outcome in 51 ridings.
Following the election, the Toronto Star reported that the indigenous turnout was up by 270 percent in some aboriginal communities. A record 10 MPs of indigenous heritage were elected to Parliament.
Don't discount the possibility of Horgan's policy pronouncement having a major impact on aboriginal leaders, who have been among the fiercest critics of the Kinder Morgan proposal.
Here in B.C., political analyst Bernard von Schulman wrote a report in 1999 stating that the aboriginal vote helped the B.C. NDP win the 1996 election.
That's because indigenous voters comprised more than 10 percent of the population in 10 B.C. constituencies that existed at the time: Alberni, Bulkley Valley–Stikine, Cariboo North, North Coast, North Island, Prince George–Omineca, Skeena, Sunshine Coast–Powell River, and Yale-Lillooet.
The turnout of indigenous people on-reserve was 74 percent in Skeena in the 1996 election, compared to 71.5 percent for all voters across B.C.
The NDP lost the popular vote to the B.C. Liberals in that election but won a majority of seats based on its distribution of support.