When the provincial legislature reconvenes next week after an eight and a half month break, expect the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to get some attention in Victoria.
Plenty has happened surrounding the project since MLAs last took their seats on May 31, with the biggest political development coming in the summer when the government laid out five conditions it said must be met before the mega project to move diluted bitumen from northern Alberta to Kitmat and then shipped to export markets can be approved.
NDP environment critic Rob Fleming said he expects his party will address the topic during the pre-election session and then again during the provincial election campaign, which is expected to begin in earnest as soon as the legislature rises in March or early April.
"The sum total of the B.C. government's actions in regards to this application have been deplorable," Fleming said. "They've failed to represent the province's interests and have not articulated a clear position on what in fact they view to be in B.C.'s provincial interest."
The Liberals point to their five conditions and the time and resources the government has spent to the preparation of its cross-examination of Northern Gateway witnesses. Lawyer Christopher Jones wrapped up his latest round of questions regarding marine spill response on Thursday.
Environment Minister Terry Lake has been critical of the answers Northern Gateway witnesses have provided during cross-examination so far, but has still found the process useful.
"A lot of information has been gleaned from these hearings," he said. "We believe that the process should continue and help us understand this proposal and the potential impacts it would have in British Columbia."
The province expects to question two of the remaining witness panels in Prince Rupert dealing with the environmental and human health risk assessment as well as shipping and navigation. It's been tough to get firm time estimates on when each witness panel will sit, but Lake estimates the lawyers for the government will be back to asking questions by the end of the month and again in March.
None of the Liberals' five conditions have been met to the government's satisfaction yet, although the most work has been done on the land-based spill response system. Marine spill response, adequate Aboriginal consultation, an appropriate share of the financial benefits and approval by the JRP are still left to be accomplished.
Northern Gateway spokesman Paul Stanway said aside from the financial component - which needs to be negotiated between B.C. and Alberta - the company believes all the conditions can be met.
"We really don't have any concerns, any issues, with the B.C. government's requirements," Stanway said. "They seem quite reasonable and we have every expectation we can meet those requirements, or at least four of them."
The NDP will campaign on a platform of severing the province's agreement with the Joint Review Panel (JRP) currently reviewing Northern Gateway's environmental assessment. In its place, the NDP propose a separate, provincial environmental review.
The Green party is opposed to Northern Gateway, while the Conservative party recently reasserted its support for the project citing the economic benefits.
While the politicians wrangle with the pipeline issue in Victoria the JRP will continue its hearings into the project in Prince Rupert. Coincidentally the cross-examination phase is slated to wrap up the week of May 13 - the same week as voters will go to the polls.