The divisive pipeline

The Energy East Pipeline project has created a chasm between Eastern Canada and the oil-rich West. It’s time for the squabbling to stop.

Instead of uniting Canadians from the western and eastern provinces, the extension of the TransCanada pipeline has created a chasm.

At the centre of the controversy is the Energy East Pipeline project, a 4,600-km pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada. A number of Montreal-area mayors, 82 in all, have said they don’t want Energy East to cut across their territory, sparking outrage from Western Canada. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall tweeted, “I trust Montreal-area mayors will politely return their share of $10 billion in equalization supported by [the] West.” Others, such as Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, accused some mayors of being “short-sighted” for not recognizing that Energy East would be beneficial to all Canadians.

That’s all it took for outspoken Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre to express indignation, tweeting, “Quebec taxpayers also support Saskatchewan’s projects through federal grants” at hashtag #ditesMerci (say thank you).
Also reacting to the western backlash, albeit more tactfully, was Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. According to the premier, if the rest of Canada can reject pipeline projects such as Keystone XL, then Quebec can say no to Energy East.

The trouble is, Coderre and Couillard may not be as in touch with their constituents as they believe. A February Léger poll commissioned by the Montreal Economic Institute found that 59% of Quebecers would prefer that oil imported from outside Quebec come from Western Canada. Even more telling is that the number jumped to 75% among respondents who identify with Couillard’s Liberal Party. What’s more, 41% of Quebecers consider pipelines to be the safest way to transport oil, far ahead of trucks (14%), ships (10%) and trains (9%).


OIL WILL FLOW, WITH OR WITHOUT THE PIPELINE


Many opposed to pipeline projects are mostly against oil, period. I’m referring, for example, to environmental groups that, regardless of the means of transport used, would prefer that we give up on oil.

In an ideal world, we would reduce our oil consumption — a noble objective we hope to achieve someday. The potential economic and environmental benefits to be reaped are undeniable. But this long-term goal, which mostly hinges on technological advancements, should not be used as an excuse to ignore the reality: oil will remain our primary source of energy for decades to come, and transporting it creates challenges that can’t be avoided simply by chanting, “Let’s free ourselves from oil.”

According to a National Energy Board report published this year, even if no pipelines were to be built for years, Canada’s oil production will increase significantly by 2040 (up to 5.6 million barrels a day from 3.9 million in 2014). And without new pipelines, this oil will have to be transported by train, which isn’t exactly the safest method.

Currently, the oil-producing provinces, landlocked in the middle of the continent, can’t send their production to outside markets, thus preventing Canada from fully capitalizing on the wealth afforded by oil. Pipeline projects are supposed to rectify this situation and generate economic benefits for the entire country. So let’s stop this petty squabbling and make way for discussion and cooperation.


About the Author

David Descôteaux


David Descôteaux is a Montreal-based business columnist.

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