Voters in B.C. will have a clear choice on the political future of the Northern Gateway pipeline when they go to the polls this spring.
The three major provincial parties have all staked out distinct positions on the hot button topic and if the province-wide Defend Our Coast rallies held Wednesday are any indication, it's an issue that can drive votes.
Polls have shown British Columbians are sharply divided when it comes to whether the plan by Calgary-based Enbridge to construct a heavy oil pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat is worthwhile.
Depending on the pollster and how the numbers are crunched at least a plurality or even an outright majority of respondents are opposed to the idea of building the pipeline and that fits into the hands of the NDP, who have said their against the pipeline and will opt out of the ongoing environmental assessment and instead launch their own probe into the projects risks and merits.
Many of the pipeline opponents are environmentalists, but the group is trying to build a broad coalition.
"I think the Enbridge Northern Gateway brings people in to oppose it from a variety of different areas," said ForestEthics Advocacy senior energy campainger Niki Skuce said. "Whether it's shipping out raw bitumen and the jobs that go with it, or it's concerns about climate change or it's wild salmon watersheds or tankers or the coast or democracy and how [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper's changing the rules or First Nations rights and title - it really is something that unites people."
About a third of people in most polls have expressed support for the project and they have a home with the provincial Conservatives. Leader John Cummins has said the jobs and investment that the pipeline would create are necessary and that the company will have the chance to prove it can live up to the environmental standards through the review process.
That leads another sizeable group of the province still waiting to be convinced. They fall into the camp of the governing Liberals, who have yet to commit to supporting or opposing the project. The government is sticking to the five conditions it released this summer on the environmental, social and economic merits of the project and say they all must be met before it will consider supporting the project.
The election will give pipeline supporters and opponents alike their chance to voice their opinion on the project, but it likely won't end the debate. The environmental assessment isn't expected to be completed until the end of 2013.