Appointment will do little to resolve pipeline conflict, says B.C. Liberal leader

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson cast doubt Tuesday on the premier's appointment of former Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen as a liaison between the provincial government and the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.

"We seem to have a habit now of finding unemployed federal NDP MPs, like Murray Rankin and Nathan Cullen, and giving them a title and thanking them for their business and then seeing no results," Wilkinson said as he field questions from local media during a stop in Prince George.

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In February 2019, Rankin was named was appointed to help guide and design the reconciliation process between the B.C. government and the chiefs. The step was taken a month after 14 people were arrested for allegedly failing to obey a court order that required the removal of a blockade against the project.

"Murray Rankin is a decent human being but produced nothing," Wilkinson said. "And now we have Nathan Cullen supposedly going to do shuttle diplomacy with the Wet'suwet'en. I hope he's successful but I'm not holding my breath."

The arrests were made under a temporary version of an injunction a B.C. Supreme Court Justice has since upheld in a December 31 decision. Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer has said he prefers a peaceful resolution over seeing the RCMP move in to enforce the order.

Wilkinson agreed with the approach.

"It's up to the parties involved, including the police, to try and sort this out peacefully," he said. "Any suggestion there should be some kind of violent confrontation is just irresponsible."

However, he also accused Premier John Horgan of dragging his feet for two years before finally stating that the ruling of law will prevail and the injunction enforced should the protesters refuse to back down and then followed up with an apparently contradictory statement.

"Two years of wasted time when this kind of diplomacy could've been done in the background. Instead it took the courts to force John Horgan to finally take a position," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson also had strong words in reaction to the resignation this week of Blair Lekstrom, appointed by Horgan in April to help in the recovery of of threatened caribou in British Columbia's northeast.

Lekstrom called for more local government involvement. However, Horgan said the province cannot unilaterally change the program's partnership agreement, which requires the consent of all parties involved in the recovery program. Those parties are the provincial and federal governments and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations.

Wilkinson agreed the agreement cannot be ripped up but castigated the NDP for failing to include local governments in the first place.

"The problem with this NDP government is they have not yet figured out that people in the Interior and the North have a very fiercely independent streak and expect to be listened to," Wilkinson said.

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