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Feds' final decision on Northern Gateway going down to the deadline on Tuesday

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VANCOUVER - The federal government will announce its much-anticipated decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline after markets close on Tuesday.

Under its own rules, the Conservative government has a June 17 deadline for the final word on whether the 1,200-kilometre pipeline can be built linking the Alberta oilsands to a port on the British Columbia coast.

A joint review panel of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency released a report in December recommending approval, and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford has hinted the cabinet decision will be a positive one for the project.

He pointed to the fact his government has already responded to two recommendations made in a separate report by Doug Eyford, a special envoy on energy affairs who consulted widely with aboriginal communities in the westernmost province.

"With more than 73,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada and a 99.999 per cent safety record, we are confident that record and Mr. Eyford's suggestions will help build the kind of framework for us to move forward with respect to transportation of our energy products," Rickford said Monday in Ottawa.

The $7-billion project is worth an estimated $300 billion in gross domestic product over 30 years, but the pipeline faces steep opposition from many First Nations and environmental groups in B.C. Several aboriginal groups have already threatened court challenges if the federal government gives it the go-ahead.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has said the project still has not met the five conditions the province has set out for approval. Those conditions include strict environmental protections, adequate consultations with First Nations and that B.C. receives a "fair share" of the benefits.

"None of the proposals have met the five conditions yet, so therefore, none of them would be approved," Clark said in response to questions Monday.

"I have said there are five conditions. Any proposal to expand heavy oil through British Columbia needs to meet the five conditions. Enbridge hasn't met them yet and they need to before they would be approved by our province."

While approval is a federal decision, Clark has said the project will still need about 60 permits from the province for construction to proceed.

A coalition of groups announced Monday that they will help organize a provincial citizens' initiative, similar to the campaign that forced the province to revoke the unpopular harmonized sales tax, should the province issue those permits. If successful, the petition would force the B.C. government to respond, either with a vote in the legislature or by holding a non-binding provincewide plebiscite.

Coastal First Nations, Unifor, West Coast Environmental Law, Douglas Channel Watch and One Cowichan will join the Dogwood Initiative's work on LetBCvote.ca.

"The energy industry feeds our families and supports our industries. But we don't support exporting our raw bitumen to be refined in other countries," Jerry Dias, Unifor's national president, said in a statement.

"Northern Gateway ignores the reality of climate change, offers few long-term jobs, and doesn't address First Nations' concerns."

In Ottawa, both the NDP and the Liberals urged the federal government during question period to reject the project, pointing to opposition by aboriginal communities and environmental concerns.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen singled out Conservative MPs from British Columbia for criticism — a line of attack likely to resurface in the province during the next federal election.

"Environmentally, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Economically, it is a sellout of good Canadians jobs. Politically, it is a nightmare for a tired, out-of-date, arrogant government that just cannot listen to the people who put it here," Cullen said in the Commons.

"Finally, will B.C. Conservatives stand up for British Columbians and reject this bad proposal?"

— With files from Jennifer Ditchburn in Ottawa

Follow @ByDeneMoore and @jenditchburn on Twitter

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