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Liberals given 'clear mandate' on resource development: Clark

Emboldened on her first day as Premier-elect, Christy Clark deftly navigated around questions about oil tanker and pipeline safety at her first post-election press conference this afternoon.

Clark told reporters in her downtown Vancouver office that the BC Liberals' 50-seat surprise victory last night -- shutting out the NDP by 17 seats -- demonstrates that voters have given her government a "clear mandate" in its fourth term, particularly on economic and resource development.

"Now that we have a clear mandate from the people of British Columbia, we are going to get down to the business of governing immediately," Clark told reporters. "People were concerned about the economy, and the people of British Columbia made their voice heard."

Surveying an election result map, however, reveals a nearly unbroken orange belt descended upon the coast like a line of driftwood washed ashore, in a province otherwise mostly Liberal. Could this stark chart of the NDP's coastal backing -- with only two exceptions on eastern Vancouver Island -- say anything about the Official Opposition's anti-tanker stance and fears of an oil spill disaster if the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines go ahead?

"I don't know that I'd read too much into that," Clark said, in response to The Tyee's question. "Those ridings have traditionally been some of the strongest ridings for the NDP well before there was any discussion around heavy oil in British Columbia.  

"Resource communities clearly heard the message about protecting our economy, growing the number of jobs in our province, making sure that we are in support of private sector, and growing the economy."

Though there are no "definitive" answers yet to why citizens voted the way they did, for Dogwood Institute campaign director Eric Swanson it isn't surprising that most coastal ridings voted for parties opposed to the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan proposals.

"We have a wall of staunch opposition to these tankers and pipelines," Swanson told The Tyee. "This didn't go away last night – and it's only going to continue to build.

"If you're boarding a BC Ferry, boarding a seaplane, going fishing, or just walking your dog on the beach, you know what it is to live on the coast. You know that it's not worth the risk to our economy, environment, and way of life. If an election comes along and a candidate is really standing up to these threats of oil tankers and pipelines, it's not surprising they would be rewarded. . . A bunch of MLAs were elected who staunchly oppose them."

Swanson believes that Enbridge may not fare as well as expected when the province makes its final submission to the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel (JRP) at the end of this month, wrapping up a year of traveling hearings dominated by public opposition to the projects.

"Towards the end of the campaign, Christy Clark did start to seemingly lean one way," Swanson suggested. "She reiterated that Enbridge has not met the five conditions set out by her government. 

"In 16 days, they are making their final presentation to the Joint Review Panel. It's hard to see how they magically do in the next two weeks; I would be really surprised if this government argued in favour of Enbridge proposal at the end of May, given what they've said."

But Clark manoeuvred around reporters' questions about the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal, which would pump heavy oil sands crude from Alberta to a Kitimat, B.C. terminal. That project promises to continue complicating Clark's occasionally tense relationship with the Conservative governments in both Ottawa and Alberta.

With the exception of the NDP's coastal ridings, ridings in northern B.C. went overwhelmingly Liberal. But Clark insisted the results do not necessarily point to significant regional differences on the pipeline issue, but rather resource development overall in those regions.

"I think that support for the project is pretty mixed all across the province," Clark said. "I wouldn't say that Northerners have a different opinion of it overall than people in the Kootenays, the Interior, or the Lower Mainland necessary. People have pretty profound concerns about it; I do...

"Talking about the huge opportunities in exporting liquified natural gas, the huge opportunities in mining, and expanding our markets for forestry -- that has a real resonance in Northern and Interior communities. That's part of the economic message that people really heard in that part of the province.”

Clark's demeanour invoked her victory speech: "humbled" by her party's nail-biting election day victory, despite losing her own seat to NDP candidate David Eby. She told reporters that NDP leader Adrian Dix – who did re-gained his seat in the Legislature – was a "tough competitor" and an "incredibly hard worker."

"I have to say coming out of this campaign," Clark added, "he earned my respect."

Though she may have held back on her usually gregarious wise-cracking for the press corps assembled in her office, as she left the podium -- set up against a backdrop of Vancouver's port and a container ship plying the inlet waters -- Premier Clark paused to grin mischievously back at the huddle of reporters before slipping away.

David P. Ball is a freelance writer and photojournalist on Coast Salish territories.

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