Skip to content

OPINION: The Great Divide in B.C. politics

The recent gathering of provincial politicians - mostly municipal, but also provincial and some federal - in the capital provided ample evidence of the Great Divide that is deepening in this province.

The recent gathering of provincial politicians -  mostly municipal, but also provincial and some federal - in the capital provided ample evidence of the Great Divide that is deepening in this province.

That divide - essentially, those who favour resource developments versus those who do not, with related issues flowing from that central thesis - will be a dominant theme come the spring election campaign.

But it was in full sight last week at the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. Two news conferences stood out, as mayors representing rival views duelled over the importance of the natural resource industry.

Last Wednesday, mayors from Northern and Interior towns like Kamloops and Fort St. John took to the steps of the B.C. legislature to make their pitch that industries such as oil and gas, forestry and mining have a huge impact on the provincial economy.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman argued the Port of Vancouver would not exist as a major port if it weren't for the exports from various natural resource industries. Others made the point that many Metro Vancouver residents can't grasp the connection between their own livelihoods and the industries that operate north of Hope.

The very next day, mayors and councilors from urban areas such as the capital region and Metro Vancouver held their own news conference, this one denouncing the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline as posing too great a risk to the environment to be allowed to proceed.

Two regions, two views on issues so fundamental to both British Columbia's dual economic and environmental interests.  

But this is not simply a geographical split. While the mayors neatly cleaved the province in half, the divide has now come to help define our two major provincial political parties and to put them in startling contrast to each other.

The B.C. Liberals have gone all in on growing the economy, and they have put the kind of environmental protection the anti-pipeline crowd is demanding on a distant backburner.  While it is keeping things like the carbon tax in place, the current government is in no hurry to expand environmental protections to the level that green activists are looking for.

The New Democratic Party, on the other hand, has adopted the exact opposite philosophy. The party has almost fully embraced the various positions of environmental activists, which include opposing pipelines such as Kinder Morgan's and demanding much more aggressive action when it comes to fighting climate change, even if it greatly curbs economic development.

Depending on which caucus member you talk to, the party seems to be opposed to an LNG industry and fracking for natural gas (or at the very least has more reasons to oppose them than support them).

The NDP has clearly put the need for economic growth lower on the priority list than fighting climate change, or a large increase in government spending for everything from public transit to social services.

And now another important distinction between the two parties has emerged, and it is directly linked to that Great Divide.

NDP leader John Horgan has now promised to fully implement the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples, while Premier Christy Clark has balked at doing so  because she thinks a number of clauses in that declaration are more than merely problematic and would in fact given First Nations an absolute "veto" over virtually any economic activity on land they lay claim to (total aboriginal land claims in B.C. amount to more than 100 per cent of the land mass).

The federal Liberal Party, in last year's election campaign, also promised to fully implement the declaration but has backed off for seemingly coming to the same conclusion as the B.C. government when it comes to whether it would give First Nations veto powers over economic development.

But Horgan insists his read is the correct one and that no such veto powers would be created.

At the very least, the NDP and the B.C. Liberals, in landing on opposite sides of the Great Divide, will give B.C. voters two vastly different options from which to choose when they head to the polls next May.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks